Knowing what consumers want when they shop for fresh market fruits and vegetables is the key to growers’ success in planning and growing crops. Consumer tastes and trends vary from year to year and are often influenced by popular magazine and other media features. How can growers predict what consumers will want when they’re planning and planting for the season? Becoming familiar with ag census data as well as local trends will help minimize loss due to flooded markets. Penn State extension educator Tom Ford says that data on cucurbit crops from the ag census indicate that vine crop production has dropped. Ford says the problem with ag census data is that it’s a snapshot and doesn’t always accurately reflect what’s being grown. With that said, national vine crop data from 2007 to 2012, indicates that acreage for pumpkin and cantaloupe has dropped; cucumbers and winter squash acreage is up and summer squash and watermelon has declined. The overall picture is that the only cucurbit crop on the upswing is winter squash. “As people look at buying local and from year-round farmers markets, we’re seeing that winter squash is becoming more and more important to the consumer diet in the United States,” said Ford. [Read more…]
by Emily Enger
Labor issues continue to dominate farm-based businesses. Our work takes hands-on education and training, it’s often seasonal, and it doesn’t fit well in a typical family’s 9-to-5 schedule. Truthfully, not everyone is cut out to work for us. But as we debate how to best retain employees, it is important to first look at the issue from an employee’s perspective.
Whatever you choose to do when it comes to boosting productivity or morale, remember your employees two imperative needs, money and respect.
by Sanne Kure-Jensen
Farm inputs can include energy in the form of fuels, electricity and fertilizers. Crop and livestock production uses energy in many forms. Energy heats water for washing equipment and harvested crops, and powers lighting for production and handling areas. Livestock and produce producers use energy for heating, ventilation and refrigeration. Transportation uses more energy to move inputs to farms as well as moving produce and livestock from farms to processors, markets and consumers. Sustainable, viable farms maximize energy efficiency and minimize costs for all aspects of production.
The Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) oversees programs that help farmers and producers conserve energy through a variety of on-farm energy upgrades for existing buildings. Kip Pheil, C.E.M., Acting Leader of the USDA NRCS National Energy Technology Development Team and Stephen Henry, P.E., NRCS South Carolina Assistant State Conservation Engineer described NRCS programs and shared their expertise in a webinar called “Key NRCS Energy Practices: Farmstead Energy, Lighting, and Building Envelope.” [Read more…]
by Melissa Piper Nelson
If you are now taking the time to review the interviews you did last fall or this winter for new workers, incorporate the “E-Factor” for finding and retaining exceptional employees. The E-Factor equates to those individuals who you move to the top of the hiring list for their enthusiasm, energy and effectiveness.
Individuals with enthusiasm are eager to learn, less likely to get stymied when problem-solving and move beyond workplace differences quicker than employees who require constant motivation. While enthusiasm is not a replacement for fundamental skills, the employee who is willing to do her job well and tackle challenges, often proves her worth from the start. Indifferent employees require more of your time as a manager to monitor, correct and encourage. In reviewing potential employees, think about those individuals who were eager to learn more about the business, had shown natural leadership abilities and whose past work experience reflected an interest in more than just showing up at the job. [Read more…]
Make decisions regarding labor management and new equipment investment is something that most farmers face during normal business operations. Chris Blanchard of Purple Pitchfork shared his experience gathering accurate farm costs and production data for investment decisions at the 2014 Beginning Farmer Learning Network Conference recently. The lecture covered ways farmers can track, extrapolate and weigh labor costs and capacity against hiring staff or investing in tractors or other equipment; Using accurate data and careful budget analysis, farmers can maximize profits and make fewer poor decisions.
According to Blanchard, many farmers are afraid to track their true hours because if they write it down they will find out how little they really earn. Farmers have told him, “It’s depressing to see how little you are worth.” Blanchard urges farmers to track farm labor (time) for field preparation, seeding, transplanting, weeding, mulching, pruning/staking, harvesting, washing, sorting, bunching and packing. Do not forget to include installing and adjusting implements as well as greasing and repairing equipment. Include loading and delivery time, pick-ups and unloading, paid breaks as well as time at farm field days or educational conferences. Remember to track time not farming: overseeing CSA pickups, retail stands or farmers markets and working in the office. [Read more…]
The owners of a Gorham, Maine farm are hoping to become a hub for good, local food. “The general trend is moving toward becoming a suburb of Portland,” said Steven Bibula. “That’s good for us, because it’s an area that is densely populated by people who are very interested in local and artisan.” Bibula and his wife started Plowshares Farm with the intention of picking up where Bibula left off. His original farm enterprise was raising organic vegetables for a CSA, but it became apparent that their location was far enough inland that local customers weren’t willing to pay for CSA shares. Although Bibula was trained in organic growing, he has since abandoned that model in favor of carefully planned IPM that emphasizes appropriate rootstock, resistant varieties and minimal chemical applications. “I began moving away from the CSA model in 2012 by establishing fruit trees,” said Bibula, adding that he received significant help from state pomologist Renae Moran. “I found that I loved growing apples and the site was good for apples. The first planting was a modified tall spindle — it was modified to fit my equipment, with 15’ spacing between rows and 3’ to 6’ between trees depending on variety.” [Read more…]
How many foods can be grown and sold in under a week? Microgreens are ready to sell 5 to 10 days after germination. Baby greens are harvested less than 2 weeks after germination.
Super Babies® “are tiny living pieces of art!” says CEO Lauri Roberts who produces microgreens under the Super Babies name. Chefs love using microgreens as tasty, colorful garnishes. They know that a just a few tiny greens sprinkled over an appetizer or dish will make a big visual impact. A little goes a long way, helping chefs justify the cost of these greens.
Owner Lauri Roberts uses a large sprouting room and two greenhouses to produce certified organic microgreens and baby greens year-round at Farming Turtles in Exeter, RI. The farm also grows wheatgrass for people and pets and shitake mushrooms. [Read more…]
Two of the top names in agriculture met for a standing room only town hall meeting during the recent annual convention of the American Farm Bureau. Farm Bureau President Stallman moderated while U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack addressed current topics and fielded audience questions.
Vilsack acknowledged the work that Farm Bureau has done with programs including the Farmer/Rancher Alliance, the Farmland movie, farm safety and and youth educational programs. “The My American Farm program is geared toward young children (K through 5th grade),” he said, “which gives kids an understanding of where food comes from and a higher appreciation for farmers.”
Regarding short and long term gains for United States agriculture, Vilsack said, “Every time we open an opportunity or enter into a free trade agreement, it’s good for agriculture. Exports represent about 30 percent of all the gross income received by the farm community.” [Read more…]
As an eighth-generation grower, John Lyman has had the unique opportunity to watch his family’s business grow from a typical New England farm to a New England destination.
“From the late 1950s on, we had a purebred Guernsey herd,” said Lyman. “We were also in the orchard business, which was pretty much wholesale-driven. In the early 1960s, we opened a retail stand to sell our product.”
Today, Lyman Orchards, in Middlefield, CT, encompasses four main businesses: an orchard, a retail market, wholesale pies and golf. [Read more…]
Visions of beach plums — particularly of beach plum orchards on South Jersey farms — are running rampant in Cape May County, NJ. The beach plum, prunus maritima, is the subject of a $40,000 New Jersey Department of Agriculture 2015 Specialty Crop Block Grant. With this funding, the Cape May County Beach Plum Association has big plans for the wild native, found not only in New Jersey, but in coastal areas from Maine to North Carolina.
“The plant can survive in different environments between Maine and North Carolina in the wild, but that doesn’t grow quality fruit,” Jenny S. Carleo an agricultural and resource management agent at Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, Cooperative Extension of Cape May County, said. “The grant will enable us to develop better tasting varieties, higher fruit quality and more consistent flowering time.” [Read more…]