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The 2016 Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association Grower Education Conference also featured the presentation of several industry awards.

Volunteer of the Year

Heidi Alsum-Randall of Alsum Farms & Produce, Friesland, was named the WPVGA Volunteer of the Year. Alsum-Randall has been a longtime member of the WPVGA Promotions Committee and has served for several years as a director on the Wisconsin Potato Industry Board.

She was the first woman to serve as president of the WPIB, having been elected in 2014, and reelected in 2015. She is a Wisconsin representative on the United States Potato Board and was a Wisconsin representative at the 2014 Potato Industry Leadership Institute.

In 2015, she received one of the WPVGA President's Awards from her father, Larry. Alsum-Randal is a Sunday School teacher and a Big Brothers/Big Sisters Volunteer. She also volunteers at the Feed My Starving Children mobile packing event sponsored by the Wisconsin Potato Growers Auxiliary.

WPVGA Young Grower

Mark Finnessy of Okray Family Farms, Plover was named WPVGA Young Grower of the Year. The newly-elected president of the WPVGA board of directors, Finnessy is a sales associate at Okray Family Farms in Plover.

Finnessy has been active in the industry at both state and national levels.

He was a participant in the Potato Industry Leadership Institute and regularly helps the national potato industry move forward by meeting with members of Congress and lobbying on Capitol Hill. He is a Wisconsin representative on the USPB and has been active on the WPVGA Promotions Committee as well as the finance and administration committee.

Researcher of the Year

The WPVGA Researcher of the Year Award went to University of Wisconsin Horticulturist Dr. Jiwan Palta. A Professor in the UW Department of Horticulture, Dr. Palta has served the Wisconsin potato industry for many years with research focusing on the impact of calcium and nitrogen nutrition on potato tuber quality and yield under heat and drought stress.

Working in the areas of molecular biology, crop physiology, and post-harvest quality, Dr. Palta has been involved in collaborative potato breeding and variety development activities to enhance farm sustainability.

Business Person

The WPVGA Associate Division recognized Chris Brooks of Central Door Solutions, Plover, as its Business Person of the Year. Brooks has worked to more fully integrate the Associate Division into the Wisconsin potato and vegetable industry.

In 2015, he served as the division president and as chairman of the WPVGA Promotions Committee. Brooks has made numerous contributions to the Spudmobile project, and helped establish this new traveling billboard and mobile trade show booth as the focal point of the WPVGA's promotional efforts.

He also recently began writing a new column in the Badger Common'Tater magazine, 'Spotlight on Associates,' which highlights the many valuable activities of the Associate Division.

Agri-Communicator

The Agri-Communicator Award for delivering a positive message about the agricultural industry was presented to John D. 'J.D.' Schroeder. The son of John T. and Judy Schroeder, he works at Schroeder Brothers Farms in Antigo.

After graduating from Antigo High School, Schroeder majored in agricultural business management and political science at UW-Madison. He then received a law degree from William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minn.

He has assisted the WPVGA with legal issues and testified at a State Senate hearing on a high capacity well bill. He has attended numerous Water Task Force meetings and has given sound legal advice as the WPVGA worked through the language of multiple high capacity well bill drafts..

President's Award

2015 WPVGA President Andy Wallendal of Wallendal Supply, Grand Marsh, presented the President's Award to Jordan Lamb of DeWitt, Ross & Stevens Law Firm in Madison.

Wallendal said Lamb has done an exemplary job helping the potato and vegetable industry work through a number of complex governmental affairs issues that have a profound effect on grower profits. Wallendal said Lamb deserved the award,'For outstanding service to the WPVGA as a great listener, grower advocate and translator of complex water and environmental issues.'

Special Industry Appreciation Award

WPVGA Financial Officer Karen Rasmussen of Antigo received a special industry appreciation award. According to WPVGA Executive Director Tamas Houlihan, Rasmussen does an outstanding job handling a very large workload while performing her duties in a timely manner. 'She is always on time, never quits early, is extremely organized and is as reliable as the day is long,' Houlihan said. '2015 marked her 20th year of full-time work at the WPVGA, and the industry is fortunate to have such a hardworking, dedicated, loyal employee.'

Auxiliary Appreciation

Wisconsin Potato Growers Auxiliary President Paula Houlihan presented Auxiliary Appreciation Awards honoring two founding members of the auxiliary, which celebrated its 40th Anniversary in December of 2015. Those awards went to Dianne Somers and Avis Wysocki.

Dianne Somers of Plover River Farms, Stevens Point, has been actively involved in the Wisconsin potato industry for many years, serving on the association's Water Task Force and working on various water issues. She has been active on the Promotions and Spud Bowl committees, and has led several political fundraising efforts. According to Auxiliary President Paula Houlihan, 'Dianne always has the industry's best interests at heart, and works hard to make sure the shrinking voice of agriculture is heard loud and clear.'

Last October the Wisconsin potato and vegetable industry lost a remarkable woman in Avis Wysocki of the Wysocki Family of Companies, Bancroft.

According to Paula Houlihan, 'Avis had a quiet authority about her. She saw the strength in others and knew how to encourage you to be and do your best.'

The wife of Louis Wysocki, Avis had lifelong friends in the potato industry and played an influential part in WPVGA history.

A founding member of the National Potato Council Auxiliary and the Wisconsin Potato Growers Auxiliary, Wysocki was recognized as a woman of vision, who made numerous contributions to the industry and will be greatly missed.

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