Jul 8, 2021Jonjak is Wisconsin’s first cranberry outreach specialist
When Allison Jonjak started her job as the University of Wisconsin-Extension Cranberry Outreach Specialist, she expected to be spending much of her time traveling around the state meeting with cranberry growers. But due to the pandemic, Jonjak’s first in-person program was a May workshop for cranberry growers interested in rearing nematodes.
Jonjak was hired in April 2020 to fill the newly created UW-Extension position she describes as a cross between a specialist and a county agent dedicated to serving cranberry growers in the 18 counties in Wisconsin where cranberries are grown commercially.
“This is the first such position in UW-Extension and I’m glad to be serving the cranberry industry in it,” Jonjak said.
Jonjak has an office in the Wood County Courthouse in Wisconsin Rapids and at the Wisconsin Cranberry Research Station near Millston in Jackson County. Both are in central Wisconsin where two-thirds of the state’s cranberry marshes are located. Jonjak’s territory also includes the 10 counties in northern Wisconsin where the rest of the state’s cranberry marshes are found.
With COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings, Jonjak switched to online programming including helping to host both the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association annual winter meeting and the spring grower workshops in virtual formats.
Jonjak also organized a Virtual Brown Bag Seminar series, holding monthly Zoom meetings for cranberry growers on current topics as well as posting video discussions with state specialists on YouTube. One of those videos focused on adapting harvest procedures to reduce the risk of coronavirus on cranberry marshes.
The online programs have proven to be so popular with cranberry growers that the Brown Bag series will continue. But now that in-person meetings are beginning to resume, Jonjak will be helping with the educational programs offered at the Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers summer field day in August on the Whittlesey Cranberry Company marsh near Wisconsin Rapids.
During the growing season, Jonjak is also involved with conducting field trials on marshes of collaborating cranberry growers and at the Wisconsin Cranberry Research Station.
Jonjak is uniquely qualified for her job. She grew up on a cranberry marsh near Hayward in Sawyer County. Her grandparents – Tony and Lucille Jonjak – began Jonjak Cranberry Farm in 1939. Jonjak’s father Randy, the youngest of Tony and Lucille’s six children, operates the marsh today.
“I loved everything about growing up on a cranberry marsh, from pulling maple trees to sweeping for bugs to testing herbicide protocols. I even enjoyed helping with frost watch, although I suspect my dad only woke me up for a few of the fun ones. I know it’s a different story when you’re up every night for several days in a row watching for frost,” Jonjak said.
Jonjak earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural engineering from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in biological systems engineering from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Prior to accepting her new position, Jonjak worked at Family Farms Group, which is headquartered in Brighton, Illinois. The company provides producers across the U.S. and Canada with the resources, services and tools to be more competitive and successful while remaining independent, Jonjak said.
At Family Farms Group, Jonjak focused on corn, beans, milo, cotton, wheat and rice. She would occasionally also get to work with tomatoes, melons, bell peppers and faba beans.
With her customers who were row crop farmers, Jonjak worked with them to grow the best crop possible within their budget.
“A lot of people are naturally drawn to competition about high yield. I founded a contest to get growers excited to compare yield per dollar spent, so we compared actual seed and input costs with normalized trip costs. We learned new things from this every year and I hope we can have similar discussions in cranberries,” Jonjak said.
Now that Jonjak can travel to cranberry marshes, she is looking forward to meeting the state’s more than 250 cranberry growers.
“I loved all the farmers I got to work with and the only thing that could have persuaded me to go elsewhere was the opportunity to get back working on cranberry marshes again,” she said.
— Lorry Erickson, FGN correspondent