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Toxic Potato Rehab

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When it comes to pesticides, potatoes are heavy hitters. They can receive up to 19 sprays in a single growing season. Farmers often spray on a weekly basis, or even more frequently to try to prevent blight. They also spray herbicides to kill the tops of the plants at the end of the growing season to make the underground tubers easier to harvest.

That’s why it’s so difficult to find organic potatoes, because the things are really tough to grow. It’s a high-value, but vulnerable, crop.

Every once in a while we hear from the Wisconsin Eco-Potato partnership, which was established in 1996 by the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) and the University of Wisconsin. The goal has been to develop ways to minimize chemical use and promote sustainable farming. The effort has produced advances in integrated pest management, water conservation, soil protection and yields without the use of genetic modification.

In 2001, the group introduced the Healthy Grown label. In order to get it, farmers and their products are certified by Protected Harvest, an independent oversight organization created to monitor the overall effort. Healthy Grown has compiled an eight-year database tracing IPM and pesticide use, which is shared with the university and other organizations like the International Crane Foundation, the Defenders of Wildlife and the World Wildlife Fund.

“One of Healthy Grown’s greatest strengths is the collaboration between researchers, conservationists and growers,” notes A.J. Bussan, associate professor in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “Healthy Grown emerged from a targeted set of specific sustainability standards, but all of us continue to challenge those standards.”

Among the group’s recorded milestones: a reduction in pesticide risk to both human and environmental health by 32% among certified fields; bans on 11 high-risk pesticides from certified farms, as well as establishment of a list of ‘use with restriction’ materials; and a 50% increase in the use of IPM and other preventative pest tactics.

Several years ago we wrote about this program in our print issue of SN Whole Health because it was then a viable, reasonable alternative to certified organic. Programs like these continue to be valuable. Yes, potatoes require chemical intervention, but initiatives like these prove that there is a middle ground to sustainability that does not involve compromising one’s food values.

(Photo credit: WPVGA)

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