Steering committee spotlight

Steering committee spotlight

My name is Andy Diercks, I’m a 4th generation potato and grain farmer in central Wisconsin.  With my father, Steve, and 5 other full-time employees we manage 850 acres of potatoes, 400 acres of field corn and 400 acres of soybeans. Beyond that we lease out another 800-1,000 acres each year to neighbors and processor partners for crops including sweet corn, green beans, peas, carrots and peppers. On the potato side of things, we grow several different varieties for different sectors of the market. We grow red, white, yellow and russet potatoes for the fresh market as well as whites for the chip market, russets for a French fry processor, and petite reds and yellows for the Little Potato Company. This diversity is intentional to manage risk and balance the workload for our part time employees (up to 25 people during harvest) over the harvest season.

Our grower organization, the  Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA)  has been supporting farmers in the state for more than 60 years. The WPVGA is funded through our Wisconsin Potato Industry Board (WPIB) that collects a small assessment on each hundredweight (cwt = 100 lbs) of potatoes sold. This money is used primarily to fund WPVGA activities centered around promotion and research. The WPVGA has a staff of 8 people, including an executive director, that carry out the daily work as directed by a board and committee structure of growers.

The focus on research by both our farm and the WPVGA is what connected me to Discovery Farms. I was, and still am, on the citizen board for the Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) when Discovery Farms got started in the state 15-20 years ago. I was on the original WASI board of directors that was supposed to oversee and coordinate the Discovery Farms and Pioneer Farm at UW-Platteville. That process eventually broke down and the two organizations moved forward with their own advisory structures. I stayed involved with Discovery Farms because we are big supporters of on farm research. Until recently most of their work took place on farms quite different from most of our WPVGA member farms but the fact is that we are very supportive of all efforts to assess and improve on the environmental impacts of agriculture. The Discovery Farms methods are thorough, long term and on actual farms which make them so critical to understanding what is happening around the state. Most of their work has focused on surface water and runoff, whereas most of our water issues are groundwater related because we’re mostly located on sandy soils with little elevation change but we still see lots of value in the work and understand how difficult it is to collect real data in those circumstances. The money, time and expertise required to collect on-farm water data is well beyond the scope of most farms so having an entity like Discovery Farms is critical in understanding and answering the questions around how much water moves off the farm, what’s in that water, and how we can best reduce that loss.

At the WPVGA we spend $300,000-$400,000 annually on research at the UW and work with nearly 25 researchers across campus and much of that work is focused on water and the impact we have on the environment. Our mission is very much inline with that of the Discovery Farms as we all want to better understand and improve the impacts of our farms. Work that happens at Discovery Farms and the efforts that have gone into collecting and analyzing that data are critical as we move forward in Wisconsin and work with our neighbors and other stakeholders. We need a sound foundation of science so we can have real conversations about practices, ideas and ultimately solutions that can make the state a better place to live and farm for future generations.§