Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association

We've been water conservationists since our great grandparents told us to be.

Our industry is one of traditions, but it’s also one of innovation and ingenuity. Our great grandfathers were crystal clear in their agriculture beliefs, “protect the land and protect the water for without both of them, your life as a farmer will be forever forgotten.” That directive is handed down from one generation to the next, and all along the way, we have researched, we have tested and we have implemented water conservation programs and practices that make our farmers and our farms some of the most widely-admired conservationists in the agriculture community.

In the early 1930s, Wisconsin became the home of the first erosion control demonstration project in the country, the wildly successful Coon Creek Watershed in Vernon County. There, the science and art of soil conservation to protect our land, our water, our food and our nation, began.
Source:United States Department of Agriculture
Natural Resources Conservation Service

Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Irrigation & Conservation Practices

Highlights from a baseline assessment

The future of our irrigated vegetable industry is ultimately dependent on our ability to balance long term conservation of our water resources with the continuing productivity that is needed for economic survival. Increasing the efficiency of our irrigation practices and adopting conservation practices that use less water are key components to achieving this balance.

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Highlights from a follow-up assessment

An assessment process was initiated in March 2019 to analyze how best management farming practices related to water quantity and quality were being adopted among Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) members. Over 80 growers participated in an anonymous online assessment and complete datasets were used for evaluation. These results are being used to benchmark current water quantity and quality best management practices among the WPVGA members. Summarized results highlighting adoption progress are shown with key notes on levels for water quantity and quality best management practices.

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High Capacity Well Facts

Potato and vegetable production is a key part of Wisconsin’s agricultural economy. Wisconsin ranks first in the nation in the production of green beans for processing, beets for canning and cabbage for kraut; we rank second in the production of carrots and peas for processing and third in the production of potatoes, sweet com and cucumbers for pickles. Specialty crop production and processing account for $6.4 billion in economic activity and 132,000 direct or indirect jobs. In 2019, Wisconsin produced over 2.8 billion pounds of potatoes valued at $370 million.

The Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) was founded in 1948 to assist WPVGA members to be successful through education, information, environmentally sound research, promotion, governmental action and involvement. Our 400+ members work together to provide the best Wisconsin potatoes and vegetables for consumers.

The members of the WPVGA are good stewards of our environment. Our members are committed to engaging in continuous improvements in agricultural environmental stewardship. We are devoted to developing science-based solutions to environmental concerns. We firmly believe that science is a critical guide to the development of effective water policy in Wisconsin.

Static Water Level Comparison

On the Question of Agricultural Water Use in Central Wisconsin

Paul Fowler, Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

Corresponding author: [email protected]

Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Technology (WIST), College of Natural Resources, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, WI 54481, USA

Water use by agriculture has become an issue in many areas where groundwater levels have dropped. Because the impact of agricultural water use is a driver of water use policy it is important to understand other factors that may also be impacting groundwater. This paper reports an examination of scientific literature on water use by trees compared to water use by vegetable crops. Evapotranspiration by trees results in significant water loss and interception of precipitation by forest canopy also impacts groundwater recharge. Studies in different geographical areas, including the U.K. and Northern Wisconsin, have shown water use by trees on an annual basis that exceeds the amount used to grow potatoes. Studies in China, the U.K and South Africa predicted that reforestation and afforestation would reduce water available for surface flow or aquifer recharge by as much as 56%. The analysis focuses particularly on Wisconsin, where a six-county area ranks as one of the top vegetable-growing regions of the U.S. and where groundwater levels have become an issue. Reforestation has increased significantly in this area. The researcher concludes that while agricultural water use has undoubtedly increased in Wisconsin over the past 50 years, it may not be either the sole or major source of groundwater depletion and reduced stream flow.

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Techniques for Quantifying Groundwater Recharge within Wisconsin's Central Sands


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Central Sands Lakes Photos

Research Shows Great Lakes Region Water Levels Are Climatically Driven

Water Task Force

Initial Water Task Force Accomplishments

Glass of WaterBackground:

The Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Grower Association (WPVGA) Groundwater Task Force was formed in 2009 in response to growing concerns over the potential impact of irrigated agriculture, climate, urbanization, and other factors on the groundwater aquifer and surface waters of the Central Sands. The focus of the Task Force is to bring together resources and expertise to foster the sustainable use of water resources. The Task Force is chaired by Nick Somers (Plover River Farms) and Jeremie Pavelski (Heartland Farms).

Task Force Goals: 

  • Be an advocate for responsible water use practices and informed, science-based public policy that will protect the Central Sands groundwater aquifer and its associated streams, lakes and wetlands.
  • Promote and maintain a sustainable agricultural industry.
  • Foster vibrant rural communities.


water2Objective 1: Consolidate and build on the extensive existing knowledge-base related to the hydrogeology of the Central Sands and the potential impacts of water use, drainage, climate and other factors on the groundwater aquifer and associated surface water bodies. 

Established a program to monitor groundwater elevations in privately owned irrigation wells both across the Central Sands and over time.

  • Sampling now in 2nd season with 473 samples in database.
  • Reports for trends in water elevation over time and land use overlays in development.

Purchased and installed equipment to continuously monitor groundwater fluctuations in nested groups of wells placed in areas designated as high risk for surface water impacts (Little Plover, Long Lake, Pleasant Lake).

  • 20 wells installed in transects of priority areas. Data posted at wisa.cals.wisc.edu/central_sands_water WPVGA provided $15,000 for purchase and $15,000 for installation of wells.

Commissioned a study of the hydrogeology of Long Lake by the UW-Extension Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey (WGNHS) to improve understanding of the formation of tunnel channel lakes and the impact of clay layers deposited in their formation on groundwater-surface water interaction.

  • WPVGA funded $15,000 study with WGNHS. Masters degree study to be completed December 2013 (PI’s: Bradbury and Bussan). PhD follow-up project now funded through NRCS (PI’s: Potter and Bussan).

Volunteered staff time to work with the DNR to monitor stream flow and lake levels (2013-14).

Engaged independent hydrogeologist Charlie Andrews to assess strengths and weaknesses of ongoing Task Force activities and examine groundwater issues and solutions in other parts of the US that may be applicable to the Central Sands.

  • Andrews assisting in evaluation of potential approaches to increasing efficiency of water use.

water3Objective 2: Identify, implement and evaluate strategies to increase the efficiency of irrigation.

Conducted a water management survey to establish a baseline of grower practices in irrigation and identify areas for potential improvement.

  • Survey completed by 30 growers in 2012.

Commissioned, tested, and implemented new irrigation scheduling software.

  • WPVGA funded $15,000 project (UW Biosystems Engineering, 2012) to develop new irrigation scheduling software.
  • WPVGA funding integration of scheduling into grower-friendly farm management software (projected $10,000, 2013).

Evaluated site-specific, precision irrigation based on variability of soil moisture holding capacities across fields.

  • Evaluated commercial sweet corn field in Adams, County, 2013.

Conducted on-farm research on potential for deferred irrigation.

  • Demonstrated potential for water savings of one inch in field corn and three inches in soybean, both without negative yield impact.

Conducted research on drip irrigation for high water use crops.

  • On-farm and experiment station research in 2011/2012 showed 15% reduction in water use on potatoes.

Investigated the potential for re-designing the century old drainage system in the Central Sands to reduce water loss and increase recharge.

  • Assessment of drainage impacts currently in progress (WPVGA, $5,000, 2013).

water4Objective 3: Investigate evaporation from crops, natural landscapes and bare soil and its relationship to climate, irrigation, recharge, and fluctuations in groundwater.

Investigated year-round water consumption of irrigated crops, natural vegetation, and bare soil.

  • Evaluation in progress on Portage County farm (Nelson Institute, 2013).

Established a digital data-base that tracks land use across the Central Sands from 2003–present to identify changes in landscapes and potential relationships to water fluctuations.

  • Cropland data layers now available by watershed from 2003. Proposed map overlays of water elevation database (Objective 1, 2014).

water_1Objective 4: Communicate Task Force activities and accomplishments to the farming community, the citizens of the Central Sands, and the people of Wisconsin, and seek broad input from all concerned parties to determine potential solutions.

In 2013, the Task Force continued to communicate activities and accomplishments to farmers and citizens of Wisconsin and seek input on potential solutions.

  • Assisted in development of a white paper outlining broad approaches to water management (PI’s: Bussan, Colquhoun, Bradbury and Potter, 2013 (in review)).
  • Created a website to communicate water-related activities (wisa.cals.wisc.edu/central_sands_water).
  • Conducted a tour for state NRCS staff. The tour focused on water issues and farming practices (July 2013).
  • Commissioned 30 blogs targeted at general audiences to educate on farming practices and water issues in Central Wiscsonsin (WPVGA, $6000, 2013).

Funding Sources: The activities described in this report were funded through a combination of research grants and direct grower funding. We acknowledge the contributions of the following grants and organizations: WPVGA, MWFPA, CALS Hatch, Wisconsin Institute for Sustainable Agriculture, Midwest SARE Program, UWEX, Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey, NRCS CIG program, SCRI Block Grant program, Wisconsin Groundwater Coordinating Council and Wisconsin DNR.

Water Task Force Accomplishments 2012-2013 (PDF)


Water Commercial

Did you know trees use more water than vegetables? Learn the facts about farmers’ water use and how they monitor it with up-to-date technology.