VERONA – Nearly 100 active and aspiring growers got technical information and compared experiences at Mississippi State University Extension Service’s Fruit/Vegetable Producers Conference at the Lee County Agri-Center on Thursday.
“There’s a lot of interest in locally grown produce, as evidenced by this turnout,” said Crofton Sloan, assistant research professor at North Mississippi Research and Extension Center.
Wayne Porter, an Extension horticultural specialist, said producer interest is fueled by consumer demand.
“People want to know where their food comes from. When you buy something local, you know it’s fresh; you may know the grower and how they operate,” he said. Conference speakers offered advice on subjects from disease, weed and pest control to maintaining quality of just-picked produce. Presentations also included vegetable farm planning, recommended varieties and startup information for agritourism, wildlife enterprises and greenhouse tomatoes.
Porter encouraged growers to use cooling, daily cleaning of tools and careful handling to maintain the quality of fruits and vegetables, while Extension plant pathologist Alan Henn illustrated how easily nematodes, pathogens and other pests enter greenhouses, gardens and fields.
M.C. Ellis, who runs Mayhew Tomato Farm with his son, Mel, urged farmers to maximize their resources with careful scheduling of crops, promotions and labor.
“We plan and plant,” he said. “We want to have continuous crops. We don’t want to run out.”
Mel Ellis also urged fellow farmers not to overestimate their capabilities early on.
“On May 15 you’ve got beautiful fields, and on June 15 you can be up to your knees in grass,” he said. “You can load that wagon a lot heavier in the spring than you can pull in the summer.”
Growers and others came to the two-day conference for a variety of purposes.
John Carpenter of Morehead grows 16 acres of vegetables and was hoping to learn whether blueberries would be a viable addition to his farm.
Bob Phillips of Calhoun City retired from a farm supply store but remains interested in agricultural trends.
Marian Maloney of Tupelo grows several kinds of fruits and flowers for use in value-added products and services.
“I share the same problems, pretty much, with these people that grow a little differently,” she said. “The insects, the pathogens, the soil conditions are the same. I’m here to get information and process it through my unique needs.”