Wisconsin Agriculture Series – Part III – Potatoes


Wisconsin Potatoes

Wisconsin is the third largest producers of potatoes in the United States (Idaho and Washington are first and second). Wisconsin grows Russet, White, Red, Yellow, and Specialty potatoes (fingerlings, purple, and blue). A majority of the potatoes grown are Russet. The Wisconsin potato market can be divided into four major areas: fresh (41% of crop), chipping (28% of crop), frozen (20% of crop) and seed (11% of crop). In Wisconsin potato chips are mainly processed at Frito-Lay in Beloit and the Kettle Brand also in Beloit. Frozen potatoes are generally processed at the McCain Foods facility in Plover. The majority of the seed potatoes are grown near Antigo.

Wisconsin production has seen growth, with some leveling off in the past few years.  The value of the potato production in Wisconsin has been regularly increasing.

Tariff Impacts

Wisconsin does not export a lot of potatoes, or potato products out of the domestic United States, so Wisconsin potato growers should not be directly affected by tariffs. Because of Wisconsin’s central location, and high quality of service in the fresh potato market, everything in the Midwest is considered locally grown according to Tamas Houlihan, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers. However, Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Colorado process most of their potatoes for frozen products which are exported.  Mexico has placed a tariff on frozen potato products, which could cause those states to begin sending their potatoes either to the fresh market, which Wisconsin currently sells to, or to market more products domestically in competition with Wisconsin farmers. Houlihan told The Wheeler Report, “The tariff issue needs to be settled quickly. The negative economic impacts of the tariffs will continue to increase over time and it needs to be settled soon.”

Unlike the dairy industry and the cranberry industry, potato producers do not have a federal marketing board overseeing the industry.  There are no controls on supply other than the markets ability to buy and sell the produce.

Wisconsin is known world-wide for being a leader in potato research, and the Storage Research Facility in Hancock is a large part of that investment in the future of agriculture. The facility was built by the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers of Wisconsin and donated to UW-Madison in 2006. The facility has nine bulk storage bins and nine lockers for pallet research. The bulk bins hold 2,000 cwt of bulk-piled potatoes. Houlihan said, “Research is the backbone of the Wisconsin potato industry.  It is through research conducted each and every year that the Wisconsin potato and vegetable industry continues to grow and improve in every aspect of production.”

 Other Wisconsin Vegetables

In addition to being third in the nation for the production of potatoes, Wisconsin is also:

  • #2 in Carrots production for processing
  • #1 in Green Beans production for processing
  • #3 in Sweet Corn production for processing
  • #3 in Pea production for processing
  • #5 in Cucumber production for pickles
  • Top 10 in production of onions
  • Lead the nation in beet for canning
  • Lead the nation in cabbage canning (sauerkraut)

Other Potato and Vegetable Industry Considerations

One issue which impacts the potato and vegetable growers in Wisconsin is high capacity wells.  2017 Wisconsin Act 10, which made changes to the high capacity well replacement and reconstruction rules, required a study (Central Sands Lake Study) of the designated area to “determine whether existing and potential groundwater withdrawals are causing or are likely to cause a significant reduction of the lake’s water level below its average seasonal levels.” The study will review three lake areas in Waushara County: Long Lake, Plainfield Lake, and Pleasant Lake. The study will include groundwater flow modeling, resource evaluations, and field studies.  At the end of the data collection time if significant impacts are identified the findings will be released to the public, public hearings will be held, an economic impact analysis will be completed, and the report will be sent to the Legislature by June 2021.


Thank you to Tamas Houlihan at The Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association for helping with background material for this report.

Thank you to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection for their assistance with background information.