This section is from the book "The Potato: A Compilation of Information from Every Available Source", by Eugene H. Grubb, W. S. Guilford. Also available from Amazon: The Potato: A Compilation Of Information From Every Available Source.
The following very comprehensive information about the potato industry of Wisconsin is furnished by Prof. J. G. Milward of the Horticultural Department of the University of Wisconsin. He is a graduate of that institution and a very capable, earnest worker for the upbuilding of the agriculture of the state. It is the work of such men as Professor Milward that has been one of the principal factors in agricultural progress during the past decade. He says:
The main or late crop of potatoes in this state is usually planted between the dates June 1st and June 15th. The early potatoes for early market are usually planted May 1st to May 15th. A number of growers in this state who raise early potatoes for seed for southern trucking centres practise planting as late as July 1st and gain what is sometimes an advantage of having the vines mature during the cool fall months. The season for harvesting the main crop ranges from October 1st to October 15th. In unusual seasons of drought or blight the late crop may be dead as early as September 15th, in which case the harvesting season is earlier.
Potatoes are grown in Wisconsin on both the clay loam and sandy loam types of soil. The large potato belt of the state, comprising Waupaca, Waushara, and Portage counties, runs quite largely to the sandy loam type of soil. There is also considerable sandy soil in the newer potato sections in the northwestern part of the state. In this section, where clover grows luxuriantly, the settlers seem able to secure very good yields of potatoes from the lighter grades of sandy soil. The soil in every potato section of the state varies considerably both in mechanical conditions and in fertility, and a wide range of yields is obtained in every section of this state, due quite largely to these varying factors.
The central potato district of this state comprises Waupaca, Waushara, and Portage counties. The counties of secondary importance in this state are Adams, Juneau, Columbia, and Sauk. The three counties mentioned above rank among the thirteen leading producing counties in the United States. The newer sections in this state, especially under development at the present time, are found in the northwestern part of the state and comprise sections in Washburn, Burnett, Barron, Chippewa, Rusk, and Eau Claire counties. This section is especially adapted to the growing of early varieties, and it is our opinion that northwestern Wisconsin will become one of the leading potato sections of the United States. Considerable attention has been given in this section to the development of the seed-growing phase of the industry.
Most of the potato stock grown in this state is raised from home-grown seed. There has been considerable deterioration in potato seed in the last few years, and there is a great need in this state for more uniformity in varieties grown. Very often the standard sorts in demand on the markets have been supplanted by coarse, imitative sorts. The Wisconsin Experiment Station through its extension service is endeavoring to remedy this matter by encouraging community centres where one variety can be grown. The important commercial varieties in this state are, for late, Rural New Yorker, Sir Walter Raleigh, Carman No. 3, Burbank, and Peerless; early varieties, Early Ohio, Early Rose, and Triumph. A number of growers are becoming interested in the Irish Cobbler, but this variety has not been grown on a wide enough scale to judge its adaptability. The Rural New Yorker, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Carman No. 3 are mixed in car shipments. Most buyers grade potatoes according to type rather than variety, and round white varieties are usually graded together in car shipments. In many localities the standard Burbank has disappeared, and especially on the poorer soils a coarse variety, the Late Pride, has taken its place. This substitution has caused considerable difficulty both at the loading stations and on the markets.
On the heavy types of potato land in this state fall plowing is often practised. On the sandy loam soil potatoes are usually planted on spring plowed land. Especially in places where a good catch of clover has been secured spring plowing is satisfactory. The clover is allowed to grow until about May 20th to 25th. The land is then plowed, well disked and harrowed and firmed with a planker, and the potatoes planted fron June 1st to 15th. The most successful growers make an application of manure to clover sod in this state.
Potatoes are planted usually in drill rows, the rows about three feet apart and the seed pieces fifteen to seventeen inches apart in the row. On the heavier land a number of successful growers practise checking the rows three feet apart each way. Very little difference in yield has been noticed in a comparison of the two systems in this state. In the sandy loam soil the potatoes are planted about four to six inches deep. In the clay loam soil the depth is a trifle more shallow.
The fields are harrowed well at the time of planting and also about the time the potatoes come up. When the rows are visible the cultivator is started and the potatoes are given from three to five cultivations during the season. Level cultivation is practised. Very little hilling is done except to ridge the rows slightly at the last cultivation.
A good percentage of the potato crop of this state is sold direct to warehouses from the field. If the price is as high as 40 cents per bushel, a large percentage of the crop will go into warehouses and be shipped to the markets during the fall months. The potatoes of this state are handled quite largely through the hands of buyers who ship to commission men in Milwaukee, Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and St. Paul. All of the large commission houses in Chicago have a number of warehouses in this state. A number of the large growers ship direct to commission houses in Milwaukee or Chicago. In some potato sections the farmers have organized and have warehouses of their own. They hire a man at a salary to handle the stock and ship direct to commission houses in the large cities.
A good many progressive growers in this state have built small storage cellars costing approximately from $300 to $500. In a good many cases excavations have been made in side hills and arrangements have been made to load the potatoes into these cellars directly through openings in the top, or in some cases provision has been made to back the wagons right into the storage cellars.
It costs from $20 to $25 per acre to grow potatoes in this state. Profits necessarily vary considerably, due to the fact that conditions vary so throughout the state. A net profit of $30 per acre would be considered satisfactory in sections where an average yield of 150 bushels per acre was secured. In sections where the yield runs as high as 300 bushels the profit should be increased proportionately. There are a good many growers on the light, sandy soils who do not average a net profit of $25 per acre.
Artificial fertilizers are not used to any extent by the potato growers of this state. The best potato growers use the following crops in three or four year rotations: Clover and some grain crop corn, and potatoes. Liberal applications of manure are made on farms where considerable livestock is kept.
A system of rotation in this state has been found necessary to maintain the fertility on potato farms. Where rotation has been neglected, along with the failure to handle livestock, the yields of potatoes have deteriorated in the past ten years both in quality and quantity. There are sections in this state which originally yielded from 200 to 300 bushels per acre which now yield below 100 bushels per acre.
The largest acreage of potatoes reported in this state on a single farm is 400 acres. In the important potato sections of the state the average acreage would probably run to about ten acres.
This station (Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station) is pushing as hard as possible the extension work along the line of potato improvement. There is a great need in this state for better seed, both in regard to uniformity and conformity to type."