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Growers Needed For Kale, Other Veggie Crops
Justin Trussoni of De Soto, Wis., started growing squash for Organic Valley – the big organic co-op based in Wisconsin - when he was 19. Three years ago he added kale - a popular “health food” crop for consumers.
  “It’s the plant that keeps on giving,” he says. “You harvest the bottom leaves and it grows new leaves at the top of the plant.” As long as it receives water through irrigation or rain, kale plants produce well into the fall and even after frost, resembling miniature palm trees with new leaves growing on top of husky stalks.
  Kale thrives in cooler climates so it’s ideal for growers who live near Organic Valley’s headquarters in La Farge, Wis., adds Jeff Bartovics, produce pool manager for the company. As soon as kale is picked - in bunches packed 24 to a case - it’s hydro cooled and refrigerated to keep it fresh as it’s distributed to wholesale markets across the country.
  “Within the last 3 to 5 years, demand for Kale has doubled every year,” Bartovics says. Organic Valley sells around $6 million worth of vegetables annually including cabbage, winter squash, cucumbers and leafy greens. Last season, green curly kale, the most popular variety, netted more than $430,000 in the Midwest, with producers earning about $12.50/case.
  Kale is a popular crop with many of the Wisconsin area growers.
  “It’s good for crop rotation (every 3 to 5 years) and you get good cash flow through the summer,” Trussoni says. While it’s intense labor because it needs to be hand-picked weekly, it has low input and seed costs and produces a high dollar per acre crop.
  Trussoni fertilizes in the fall and foliar feeds fish emulsion through the growing season. Providing plenty of nutrients to maintain healthy plants is one of the best defenses against disease, he says. Growing in soil with a 6 to 6 1/2 pH along with rotation helps prevent insects that eat holes in young plants or cause more serious plant problems.
  The 30-year-old farmer plants 6 to 8- week-old kale transplants spaced 18 in. apart in rows that are 3 ft. apart to allow leaves to grow bigger and make it easier to harvest. He cultivates early in the season to keep ahead of the weeds, but notes that some growers grow kale in black plastic. Since he grows organically he doesn’t use herbicides, so once the plants are established he doesn’t worry about weeds.
  Trussoni expects kale to continue to be a good market and plans to grow 4 acres in 2016.
  “I have relatives eating it that I wouldn’t expect,” he says, noting that kale is sweeter when the weather is cooler. After stripping the leaves off the rib, he eats kale several ways – in smoothies, steamed, fried and in soups and casseroles, for example.
  “You don’t want to overcook it,” Bartovics adds.
  Making kale chips and mixing it in with coleslaw and other recipes are also delicious ways to use kale, Bartovics notes.
  For home gardeners, Trussoni suggests just growing a few plants as they will provide kale all season. Surplus leaves can be fed to chickens, pigs and cattle.
  For people interested in growing kale to sell to Organic Valley, Bartovics says organic growers must be within about 45 minutes of La Farge, Wis., since kale must be kept cool. However, there are opportunities in other parts of the country to grow cabbage, winter squash and other produce. Information is on the cooperative’s website under Farmer Support.
  Contact: FARM SHOW Followup, Annake Ramsey, Organic Valley Cropp Cooperative, 1 Organic Way, La Farge, Wis. 54639 (ph 888 444-6455; www.organicvalley.coop).

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2016 - Volume #40, Issue #1