American Vegetable Grower’s 2016 Grower Achievement AwardSM recipient, Bob Bender of Tasteful Selections in Arvin, CA, says managing water, labor, and consumer perceptions are critical to moving the industry forward. Special thanks to AgroLiquid for sponsoring this award.
Q1 What are the top three issues impacting vegetable production in the U.S.?
Bob Bender: Water availability, labor constraints, and customer perceptions of GMOs and pesticide use.
Q2 How is Tasteful Selections dealing with those issues?
Bob Bender: We are using more efficient irrigation methods. Our linear irrigation systems provide up to 90% in water application efficiency compared to surface irrigation at 60% to 65% and solid set sprinklers at 65% to 75% efficiency. The shorter growing season of baby potatoes will use approximately 40% less water than a normal full-season potato.
To help with the labor issue, our focus is on automation — not only on the farm, but also with the use of optical sorters in the packing facility.
Regarding the last issue, we have begun to focus new growth on the organic side of our business. We also have implemented a comprehensive integrated pest management approach that utilizes cultural practices to minimize the reliance on chemical solutions.
Q3 How can growers and others in the industry educate the public on the importance of ag?
Bob Bender: We should encourage schools to schedule field trips to farms as well as support local 4-H and FFA programs. Other ways to promote education is through community gardens, rooftop vegetable growing in cities, and pick-your-own farms. We also can encourage produce marketing associations to focus on customer education, not only on sales.