But Feit said if sustainability is the wave of the future for the potato business, Wisconsin has an advantage because of Healthy Grown.
“Before anybody was talking about sustainability, we were ahead of the curve,” he said. “Now, it’s tipping toward more people caring about the environment and caring about what they buy. Eventually, they listen to the customers.”
As word spreads and customer interest builds, the Healthy Grown program is bound to attract more participants, Feit said.
“If there are enough people saying they want an option, more growers will start being more open to it,” he said. “Everybody is always afraid of adding another SKU (stock-keeping unit), unless they have a good reason.”
Dick Okray, co-owner of Okray Family Farms Inc. in Plover, Wis., said the industry is trending that way.
“It is a nonending job and certainly in the forefront of everybody’s mind,” he said, adding that his company is headed in that direction.
“We are going down the road of some projects,” Okray said. “When we announce them in three or four or five months, we’ll have a lot to crow about. A lot of companies have been working through sustainability issues and talking to retailers. We all ride this together because we’re all on this planet together.”
Retailers are asking growers and shippers about sustainability these days, Okray said.
“We’re compiling all that stuff and telling them we’re using less water, less fertilizer, generating a good crop,” he said. “The environment is being treated in better and saner ways. A lot of that has to do with chemicals. Companies are coming up with formulations that are better for the environment. It’s for people and always better for us.”
It’s happening in other growing areas, as well.
Paul Dolan, general manager of Grand Forks, N.D.-based Associated Potato Growers Inc. said his organization is moving toward greener practices.
“Basically, we’ve started to switch some of our lighting over, trying to use less water and recycling water,” he said. “Also, we’re looking at down the road implementing recyclable things in cardboard and plastic that we’re disposing of. I think that’s hopefully by next season we’ll have some of that implemented.”
These types of initiatives make perfect sense, because sustainability and marketing can go hand in hand, said Tim O’Connor, executive director of the Denver-based U.S. Potato Board.
“We certainly think sustainability is important because it represents good business decisions that will make growers money,” he said. “It’s important because customers are demanding it. They’re presenting themselves as doing the right things and want consumers to value them as a steward of the earth. There’s a clear momentum behind that. It makes good sense for all of us.”