Happy New Year! Every year, I make a resolution to learn something new. Being Alice in Dairyland certainly helps as I constantly have the opportunity to network with agribusinesses leaders in a variety of industries.

Coming from a family dairy farm, I was quick to remember my June Dairy Month trivia. July brought fun facts about locally grown produce. By the Wisconsin State Fair in August, I needed no notes to quiz youth on everything from savory vegetables to sweet syrup production. Nearly halfway through those 11 days, I was stumped when asked about Wisconsin mint.

When I thought of a steaming cup of mint tea or a tube of toothpaste, I took for granted the agricultural process behind the product and its importance in Wisconsin agriculture. Mint starts as a row crop. Because the crop doesn’t produce seeds, it is grown using roots. Mint thrives in rich, wet organic material, but it needs to be rotated every five to six years to avoid a disease called verticillium wilt.

The U.S. is responsible for more than 70 percent of the world’s supply of mint, according to the Wisconsin mint industry. Our state represents an important part of that percentage. Wisconsin ranks fifth in the nation for peppermint oil production with 197,000 pounds harvested from 2,700 acres in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. The total value of that crop added $3,345,000 to our state’s agriculture economy.

What I love about our state’s mint industry is that it impacts products we use every day. Most mint oil from the Midwest goes to companies who, as you probably guessed, use it to help make toothpaste or chewing gum. Just one drum of mint oil can be used to flavor 5 million sticks of chewing gum.

This past holiday season, my family’s grasshopper pie and sweets made with crushed peppermint candies were a sweet reminder of Wisconsin’s unique agriculture industry.

Before ringing in the new year, I promised myself to make the most of my remaining months as Alice so I can become a more effective communicator for all sectors of Wisconsin agriculture. While I still have plenty to learn, I am excited to dive deeper into Green County’s culture to learn more about the host of the 72nd Alice in Dairyland Finals.

Applications to become the 72nd Alice in Dairyland are open and can be found at aliceindairyland.com. The position is perfect for anyone who made it a resolution to learn something new like I did, travel the treasures of Wisconsin’s landscape, enhance communication skills and take a fresh look at Wisconsin agriculture.

Whether it is mint, mink, dairy or ginseng, the diversity of Wisconsin’s agriculture industry is its greatest strength, and I am excited to see the growth of our farmers and processors in 2019.

Alice in Dairyland Kaitlyn Riley can be reached at DATCP, 2811 Agriculture Drive, P.O. Box 8911, Madison, WI 53718 or DATCPAlice@wisconsin.gov.