WPVGA Presents Annual Industry Awards

In addition to its annual Hall of Fame induction, the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) presented several other annual Industry Awards during a banquet on February 7, 2024, in Stevens Point. 

The WPVGA Associate Division Business Person of the Year Award was presented to Bill Page of Insight FS. Bill started his career with Farm Bureau Cooperative in August of 1977. At the time, the coop had $1.5 million in agronomy sales. His job morphed over the years from salesman into sales manager and purchasing. The company name was changed a couple times, grew, and merged with other Growmark locations and is now Insight FS. Currently the agronomy sales in the Antigo location are over $28 million, while total sales for the location are over $55 million. In 2020, Bill was named Certified Crop Advisor of the Year.

Randy Fleishauer of Plover River Farms, Stevens Point, was named the WPVGA Volunteer of the Year. The general manager of Plover River Farms Alliance since 2017, Randy is the current president of the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association Board of Directors, now completing his second term.

For 25 years, Fleishauer worked as a farm manager specializing in potato and wheat production for R.D. Offutt Company in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and South Dakota. After 25 years, and with a strong agricultural background and love for Wisconsin and the Midwest, Fleishauer joined a farm known for sustainable and eco-friendly practices, including prairie restoration on portions of the land as part of the Wisconsin Healthy Grown program. Owned by Nick Somers, Pover River Farms has been in his family for generations.

Randy is chairman of the WPVGA Vegetable and Processor Relations (Frozen) committees, and a board member on the Research and Grower Ed Planning committees. He also serves on the National Potato Council Advisory Committee to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and was appointed to the Wisconsin Ag Producers Security Council.

As the out-going WPVGA board president, Fleishauer also presented the President’s Award to his coworker, Dan Walsch, in grateful appreciation for outstanding service and dedication to Plover River Farms.

This year’s WPVGA Young Grower of the Year Award went to Charlie Husnick, a farm manager for Baginski Farms, Inc., in Antigo. Charlie was hired at Baginski’s, in 2015, where they grow a rotation of seed potatoes, soybeans, and oats across 2,000 acres annually. Charlie was a 2018 graduate of the Potato Industry Leadership Institute, and a 2019 Graduate of the WPVGA Member Development Leadership Training Program. He currently serves on the Wisconsin Seed Potato Improvement Association Board and the United Potato Growers of Wisconsin Board, as well as being a Wisconsin representative on Potatoes USA.

The WPVGA Researcher of the Year Award was presented to Brooke Babler. Brooke is the associate program director of the Wisconsin Seed Potato Certification Program and previously served as certification and research manager. She oversees seed potato certification in Wisconsin. Her research includes evaluating the performance of potato plantlets grown in potted, hydroponic and aeroponic systems. Winner of the Wisconsin Seed Potato Improvement Association Seed Industry Leadership Award in 2023, she is a potato expert with great leadership in disease diagnostics and the certification process. 

Dick Pavelski received the Agri-Communicator Award for excellence in communication and outstanding service to the potato and vegetable industry. Dick is a fourth-generation farmer with roots dating back to 1873 when his great-grandfather, August Pavelski, emigrated from Poland. Dick is the founder of Heartland Farms, Inc. in Hancock, one of the largest growers of chipping potatoes in the nation with over 20,000 acres of potatoes and vegetables.

A past president and Hall of Fame member of the WPVGA, Pavelski has served on the United States Potato Board and the National Potato Council and was a director of the National Fertilizer Solutions Association. He is a past president of the Wisconsin Fertilizer and Chemical Association as well as the Wisconsin Agri-Business Council.

The Farming for the Future Foundation was founded by the Pavelski family and incorporated as a 501 C3 non-profit charitable organization in 2018. Dick says, “Our mission is simple. People want to know where their food comes from, and farmers want to share those stories. We want to create common ground where people can learn more directly from the industry without taking away from the important work that must be completed to feed the growing world. With a grand opening in December of 2023, the Food + Farm Exploration Center is the physical manifestation of our mission.” 

Special Industry Appreciate Awards went to Kevin Schleicher of Wysocki Family Farms, Bancroft, and Dr. Paul Bethke, a member of the UW potato team.

Dr. Bethke joined the potato team in Madison as a researcher with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and as a faculty member in the Department of Horticulture. His research has focused on how different potato varieties respond to environmental conditions in the field and in storage, and how those responses influence potato tuber quality. 

Schleicher is the director of sales for Wysocki Family Farms in Bancroft, which raises 25,000 acres of chipping potatoes, process potatoes, fresh potatoes, canning crops, and grains. He currently serves as the president of the Wisconsin Potato Coalition, which partners with the University of Wisconsin to improve the efficiency of seed potato production at the Starks Early Generation Seed Potato Farm in Rhinelander. Kevin also serves as a Wisconsin representative on the Potatoes USA Board of Directors and as vice chair on the Executive Committee of the Portage County Business Council.