A sustainable market

09/01/2007 02:00:00 AM

In hopes of a price premium, growers promote earth-friendly practices to buyers

By Marni Katz

An increasing number of fruit and vegetable producers who have adopted sustainable farming practices have begun to try to capitalize on their efforts in the marketplace.

One such group is Healthy Grown Potatoes, which consists of about a dozen Wisconsin potato growers representing about 10,000 acres.

Eleven years ago, the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association and the World Wildlife Fund began to develop sustainable practices for potato production. In 1999, the University of Wisconsin in Madison joined , and six years ago, the trademarked Healthy Grown potatoes name and logo were unveiled

Growers who meet the requirements and pass an audit by the San Diego-based independent certification firm Protected Harvest can affix the Healthy Grown logo to their bags of potatoes.

Although growers have yet to receive a premium for sustainably grown potatoes, they have seen sales increase, particularly this year, says Tim Feit, promotions director for the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association in Antigo.

“On the spectrum of traditionally grown to organically grown potatoes, Healthy Grown is somewhere in the middle and probably closer to organic,” he says. “I think a lot of consumers want to buy organic, but it’s also fairly expensive. They want produce that’s more environmentally friendly, but they still want it at a reasonable price, and Healthy Grown is a nice option for them to have.”

He says Healthy Grown potato growers hope that as sales and demand increase, they eventually can raise prices to recoup the additional expenses incurred in growing sustainably.

Wisconsin potato growers aren’t the only ones trying to capitalize on their sustainable farming practices. Protected Harvest also works with winegrape growers in California’s Lodi-Woodbridge area, California stone-fruit producers, California citrus producers and Pennsylvania mushroom growers.

The sustainable scorecard

The process begins when a commodity group approaches Protected Harvest about certification, says Andrea Caroe, executive director.

Because the definition of sustainable varies among commodities and even individuals, Protected Harvest works with growers, Extension specialists, processors and packers to develop a set of research-based best management practices.

To achieve and maintain certification, growers must earn a minimum number of points within each of nine different management categories. They include field scouting, pest management decisions, field management decisions, soil and water quality, and storage management. Growers also must stay below a set toxicity score, which is based on the environmental impact of each pesticide applied.

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