Taking in a little of this, a little of that

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TOLEDO – A large segment of Ohio agriculture descended on Toledo for three days last week looking for the latest in an almost infinite variety of approaches to creating farm profits from fruit, vegetables, and marketing off the farm.

The 2002 Ohio Fruit and Vegetable Growers Congress and the Ohio Roadside Marketing Conference Feb. 6-8 at the Toledo SeaGate Convention Centre is a must-do event for many Ohio farmers.

And they were there, apple growers with orchards reaching back to post-Revolutionary War grants, grain farmers turned truck farmers, Lake Erie muck soil vegetable growers with on-site labor camps, fruit growers marketing berries from their fields, and farm marketers expanding their entertainment options to maze building in sunflowers and other showier plants.

A family’s story. Take the John Brown family of Brown’s Family Farm in Hamilton, Ohio. Although John and Joyce Brown started their life together 32 years ago as grain farmers, but began planting a few acres of vegetables 15 years ago. Now they plant 1,200 acres in grain and 200 in truck farming.

John is vice president for truck crops for the Ohio Vegetable and Potato Growers Association.

Joyce runs an on-farm market and has added greenhouses to her side of the operation to establish a going market in bedded plants.

From having a sweet corn stand seven years ago, she is now running a year-round farm market. And she serves on the board of the Ohio Direct Agricultural Marketing Association.

John and Joyce had a lot of sessions they needed to attend during the growers congress and marketing convention. And since many of those who attend, like the Browns, are involved in more than one kind of production, they were moving briskly from one session to another, taking in a little of this and a little of that.

It was there. Whatever it was a producer wanted to know about, there was probably a program scheduled to address that particular topic.

Educational tracks were scheduled for small fruit, primarily berries, and for tree fruit, mostly apples; for truck crops, for processing crops, for greenhouse crops, and for potatoes.

In his introduction to new varieties for tree fruit growers Walter Heuser of Summit Tree Sales of Michigan, a provider of fruit tree stock to commercial growers, said a new root stock for cherries in the works is going to make cherry production the next big comer for Ohio growers.

The small fruit growers got more than a little information on raspberries, although they were also introduced to jostaberries, elderberries, gooseberries and currants.

Health of soil. Truck crop producers in their soil sessions were introduced to the concept of the biological health of soil by Brian Slater, OSU Extension expert in sustainable soil and land management.

Slater talked about the idea that producers, “used to thinking in terms of NPK” could begin to use new soil testing methods he said would allows them to keep good records and a constant check on the biomass, compaction levels, water drainage and holding capacity, earthworm populations, and residue decomposition of their soil, among other factors.

The Ohio Soil Health Card, developed by OSU with an advisory panel of farmers, Slater said, is a simple field-based set of criteria that gives producers an opportunity to take control and begin active management of their soil.

The most pressing topic for all growers was weed management, insect control, and plant disease. Finding out what results other growers were having with new products and new methods was in the front of the mind for most of these produce growers. They were eager to discuss results with each other.

Marketing ideas. But producers also wanted to compare experiences marketing from the farm – how they were using Web marketing, how they were working to enhance the experience of pick-your-own for entertainment oriented customers, what made their direct marketing businesses grow.

Wen-fel Uva of Cornell University presented the economic and marketing research she has been involved with on behalf of the New York apple association.

What she identified were opportunities in forming partnership alliances with retailers, marketing to food service providers, and marketing to local restaurants, where the major concern is freshness and quality. The associations’s strategic plan, she said, is to begin to work more collaboratively to assist buyers in identifying sources of produce and in increasing marketing information.

Food safety. One of the keynote ideas being presented in all phases of the Congress was the growing problem of food safety.

Elizabeth Bihn, project coordinator of the National Good Agricultural Practices Project at Cornell, that Ohio has recently joined as a collaborator, talked about the growing prevalence of food borne pathogens.

She said that of recent incidents of bacterial outbreaks traced to produce, almost 20 percent came from fruit, another 18 percent from lettuce, and 35 percent from some undetermined product in salad bars.

And of these, she said, 75 percent were from domestic produce. Only 7.5 percent of the outbreaks were traced to imported produce.

Food safety, she said, has to be the responsibility of every grower. Once food it contaminated it is tough to remove. Washing is not effective. The responsibility of the producer has to be preventing contamination before it happens.

(You can contact Jackie Cummins at 800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at jcummins@farmanddairy.com.)

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