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WPVGA presents annual industry awards

In addition to its annual Hall of Fame inductions, the Wisconsin Potato & Vegetable Growers Association (WPVGA) presented several other annual industry awards at a banquet held February 7, 2018, in Stevens Point.                                           

WPVGA Executive Director Tamas Houlihan presented the Associate Division Business Person of the Year Award to Sally Suprise of Ansay & Associates. Suprise has been in the insurance industry for over 20 years, including the last seven years at Ansay. She has been on the WPVGA associate division board of directors for six years, serving as president of the board this past year.

Suprise has a Certified Workers Comp Advisor Designation and has received the Authentic Sales Person Class Award. She has received the Agribusiness Farm Insurance Specialist Designation from the International Risk Management Institute. Suprise has volunteered on several WPVGA committees as well as at numerous associate division events such as the Hancock Field Day and the Putt-Tato Open golf outing. She has also volunteered during Spudmobile appearances, serving food and helping to promote the Wisconsin potato and vegetable industry. She and her husband, Darnell, have four children and two grandchildren.    

Suprise then presented the WPVGA Volunteer of the Year Award to Paul Cieslewicz, owner of Sand County Equipment. Cieslewicz, who started Sand County Equipment six years ago, completed ag-related courses at Mid-State Technical College in Wisconsin Rapids and has worked in the agriculture industry for over 30 years.

A member of the WPVGA Water Task Force, Cieslewicz has also served two separate terms on the associate division board of directors, as well as on the Portage County Drainage District board since 2005, including as chairman since 2015. He has served three years on the Wisconsin Association of Drainage Districts, has been the chairman of the town of Buena Vista for 18 years and on the town board for 20 years. Cieslewicz has three children, Jakub, Jarod and Joshawa. He has a hobby farm where he raises cattle along with irrigated alfalfa and corn. Cieslewicz has volunteered at numerous industry events over the years and is an outstanding advocate for agriculture.  

Chad Malek of Specialty Potatoes & Produce was named WPVGA Young Grower of the Year. He grew up potato farming with his dad on Malek Farms in Rosholt, so potato farming was always in his blood. In 2004, Malek started on his own by growing a half-acre of fingerling potatoes. Each year the business grew, and by 2007, he was growing 80 acres and decided to make the farm his full-time job.

Specialty Potatoes & Produce now grows both organic and non-organic fingerling, red, yellow and russet potatoes. Today, the farm grows over 600 acres of potatoes and 700 acres of rotational crops. In addition to the farm end, Specialty Potatoes & Produce has also started a potato grading facility that packs its own product and packs for other organic potato growers in the area. Malek has built this farm from the ground up and now employs nearly 30 people throughout the year. Malek lives in Rosholt with his wife, Jenny, and three children, Erin, Adam and Jacob.

The WPVGA Researcher of the Year Award went to U.S. Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service and University of Wisconsin  geneticist Shelley Jansky. A Professor in the UW department of horticulture, Jansky’s research program focuses on identifying useful genes in wild potato relatives and putting them in cultivated potato lines so breeders can use them for variety development. In recent years, she has developed an initiative to produce inbred lines in potato, with the goal of creating hybrid cultivars. Shelley received her bachelor's degree in biology at UW-Stevens Point and master's and doctorate degree in plant breeding and plant genetics at UW-Madison. She is currently president of the Potato Association of America.

2017 WPVGA President Eric Schroeder of Schroeder Bros. Farms Inc. presented the President’s Award to his mother, Gina Schroeder, in grateful appreciation for a lifetime of support, guidance, inspiration and love.

The Agri-Communicator Award for excellence in communication and dedicated service in presenting a positive message about the agriculture industry was presented to Andy Wallendal, owner and consultant for Wallendal Supply Inc. An Adams-Friendship native who lives in Mauston, Wallendal holds a bachelor's degree in agricultural management from St. Norbert College.

Under Wallendal’s leadership, Wallendal Supply won the National Potato Council’s Environmental Stewardship Award, and as a former president of the WPVGA, he has done a great job communicating the industry’s position on several critical issues. He wrote a compelling newspaper editorial piece in which he stated that “there are environmental activists, and then there are active environmentalists; and farmers are the latter.”

Wallendal has worked hard on some incredibly complex issues and laws such as the Total Maximum Daily Load for the Wisconsin River and the Agricultural Producer Security Law. He also served on the producer security council. He and his wife, Paula, have two children, Emily and Laura, and one grandchild, Alexi.

Houlihan also presented a special Industry Appreciation Award to his WPVGA Executive Assistant Julie Braun, who also serves as administrative coordinator for the Wisconsin Mint Board Inc. and the Wisconsin Muck Farmers Association. She completed courses at Northcentral Technical College in accounting and website development, and previously worked at the Wausau Insurance Co. 

Braun received an Industry Appreciation Award from the WPVGA associate division in 2012 and the 2013 WPVGA President’s Award. An Antigo High School graduate, Braun was born and raised in Antigo and currently resides in Polar with her husband, Brian, and two sons, Emmett and Ezra.

“She is a rock on the staff of the WPVGA, always prepared, always on time, does not quit early, is extremely organized and is an incredibly reliable person,” Houlihan said. “Julie has a positive attitude and performs all duties promptly and with a pleasant demeanor. 2018 marks her 20th year of full-time employment at the WPVGA, and the industry is fortunate to have such a hardworking, dedicated, loyal employee.”

A second Industry Appreciation Award was presented to RPE Senior Agronomist Mike Copas for sharing valuable research and making outstanding contributions to the Wisconsin potato and vegetable industry.

Growing up on a beef, grain and vegetable farm near Plainfield, Copas’ passion for agronomy was sparked at a young age. He attended UW-Madison, where he completed his bachelor's and master's degrees, along with his doctorate. He first became involved with the WPVGA in 2003, while working on his master’s degree. Copas was the first recipient of the Wisconsin Potato Industry Board Distinguished Graduate Fellowship in 2006. He was in the final stages of finishing his doctorate work at UW-Madison when he was brought on as the senior agronomist for RPE in 2009.

During his tenure at RPE, Copas has led his team to establish a large research and development department that provides internal and external agronomic support for fresh potato growers throughout the country. He continues to be an active contributor to the WPVGA, including on the research committee, Healthy Grown Advisory Board, Water Task Force and is the current chairman of the SpudPro Committee.

Copas lives in Wisconsin Rapids with his wife, Laura, and their two sons, Calvin and Perry.