“People have to eat.” Since the economy took a turn for the worse a few years ago, that saying has been the mantra of growers. Food may be a necessity, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t numerous hurdles growers must overcome along the way.
American Vegetable Grower asked its Top 100 grower candidates to provide feedback about their top challenges, the impact of technology on the industry, and more. What follows are the questions and some of the responses we received:
What are the top challenges vegetable growers are facing today?
- Pasquinelli Produce (#3 in the Southwest): The top challenges are a legal workforce, food safety, and retail consolidation. Right now, buyers have too much power.
- D’Arrigo Brothers of California, Inc. (#2 in the West): In California, the top challenge is environmental regulations that increase cost significantly. Labor availability, immigration, and food safety regulations also are concerns.
- Black Gold Farms (#3 in the North):There is a need for trained management, less government intrusion, and gaining a handle on succession planning issues.
- Neumiller Farms (#11 in the North): One of the top challenges is maintaining profitability
- Fresh Plants (#24 in the Southeast): The cost of seed, products, etc. continues to rise.
What are growers doing to overcome those challenges?
- Pasquinelli Produce: Work is being done through Western Growers association and lobbying in Phoenix, AZ, as well as Washington, DC, regarding food safety and labor/immigration issues.
- Turek Farms (#21 in the North):In the area of food safety, the farm is implementing a food safety plan and diversifying labor.
- Neumiller Farms: The farm is watching how it spends money and is maintaining closer relations with its customers.
- Fresh Plants: We are cutting costs in any way possible. In addition, we are trying to stay current with food safety issues.
- Gargiulo Farms (#6 in the Southeast):We are working with government officials and other stake holder to find solutions that everyone can live with for labor/immigration, food safety, and mandated healthcare.
How has technology impacted how you produce crops and do business?
- D’Arrigo Brothers of California: Technology has played a big role in drip irrigation and genetic research.
- Pasquinelli Produce: There are now pollinator plants for watermelons, sprinklers for germination, lasers for land leveling, GPS to help us keep straight rows, and new and improved seed varieties.
- Neumiller Farms: Input costs, weather, and market trends are now easier to access and keep track of.
- Black Gold Farms: Technology has helped make the farm more sustainable and more efficient and has improved the quality of our production.
- Turek Farms: Efficiencies have been created, thanks to technological advancements. For example, sales are now done via the computer. In addition, GPS has greatly improved field operations.
- R.C. Hatton ((#7 in the Southeast): Technology has kept us on the cutting edge of the industry. A good example is using the latest innovations in traceability.
What has been the effect of the economy on your operation?
- Gargiulo Farms: Fewer people are eating outside the home. Much of our business depends on people eating out. We have seen a decrease in demand.
- Black Gold Farms: Potato chip consumption has been impacted in a positive way. The down economy has made everyone work harder and has made us ‘tighten up’ and become better managers.
- D’Arrigo Brothers of California: I think the “buy local” movement has hurt California production. The economy has been a drag on sales and profitability.
Where do you see the future of vegetable production in the U.S?
- Pasquinelli Produce: The future will be OK as long as we get a usable H-2A guest worker program from the Federal government.
- Neumiller Farms: We don’t tell our ‘farm story’ very well. Farmers need ‘spokespeople’ to tell the public that we are not out to harm the environment. Farmers are trying to increase production, lower costs, hand-feed fertilizers and chemicals to lower environmental risks, use new technology and innovations, and still try to make a profit. Someone needs to tell the public that if we don’t farm as we do now, we will be faced with shortages, high food costs, and poor quality.
- D’Arrigo Brothers of California: People have to eat and fruits and vegetables would certainly be more healthful. With obesity and diabetes so common, vegetables are a part of the solution.
- Fresh Plants: The economy needs to change. Farmers can’t afford to grow the products and get nothing for their efforts.