The VegetableGrowerConnectSM is not a trade show and it’s not a conference. What is it exactly, you may ask?
VegetableGrowerConnect is an event designed for large growers in the West and decision makers from the nation’s leading suppliers to come together for two-and-a-half days of meetings and networking.
American Vegetable Grower® magazine’s third annual VegetableGrowerConnect was held in Park City, UT, Nov. 15-17. The essence of the event is one-on-one private, 50-minute meetings with growers and suppliers.
Before coming to the Connect, each grower was interviewed to determine his farm’s specific needs. The growers were then matched with suppliers who created specific presentations to address their individual needs.
Issues That Impact All
To kick off the event, a grower roundtable was held where attendees discussed issues such as labor and ways to control costs, as well as how to get the next generation involved in agriculture.
“It was nice hearing the perspective of the older generation growers and hearing the challenges from growers in other areas. It also was encouraging to find out they have issues similar to us,” said Danny Coultas of Coultas Farming in California about the roundtable.
“Just hearing about how some of these experienced growers attack issues such as labor was interesting,” he added. “I know regulations aren’t going to get easier. You have to stay on top of those [labor] regulations to get the maximum efficiency for your farm, keep downtime to a minimum, and keep the morale of employees up.”
Mark Mason of Huntington Farms in California agreed.
“Sometimes I’m in my own world and wonder if I’m the only one with these [labor] problems. I talk to people in my own area, but I come here and realize we are all dealing with the same issues.”
The Grower Benefit
American Vegetable Grower asked several growers about how they will take the information they gathered at the event from the one-on-one meetings with suppliers and networking with other growers and turn it into a way to increase efficiencies on the farm or help streamline production.
Patrick Pinkard of Terranova Ranch in California said because of the number of suppliers and products out there, it is difficult to know what many do without attending an event like the Connect.
“There are suppliers that people are not aware of if they don’t attend an event like this,” Pinkard said. “For example, at the Connect you can come face to face with people representing some of the latest technologies that under normal circumstances you would not have an opportunity to do. And it’s not just the suppliers. You also can connect with many growers and find out what they are doing to stay alive and find out how they are coping and strategizing.”
Coultas also said the Connect gave him an opportunity to learn about products he didn’t know existed.
“There are nutrition and crop protection options out there, and you need to find out what will work best for your operation,” he explained. “Coming to an event like this may expose you to a specific product that can help you with your growing practices.”
Attending the event for the first time, Josh Waters of California-based Silent Springs, said he plans to do business with several of the suppliers he met with.
“I enjoyed talking with all the suppliers. During the meetings, you find out more than just the normal sales pitch,” Waters said. “I can build business relationships from this event. You will get more out of it than you think you will.”
A Time To Share
Growers not only have a chance to hear more than a sales pitch, they have a chance to share their specific needs with the suppliers and hear what products may be coming down the pike.
Donny Hopkins of Bolthouse Farms, another first-time attendee, said he was glad to have the opportunity to meet with vendors and manufacturers who told him about products they are currently working on, and they listened to him as he explained the specific issues he has at his farm.
“I’ve been to a lot of meetings in my life, but these one-on-one meetings give the farmer an opportunity to share his needs,” Hopkins added.
Mason also said he was pleased to have the ears of the suppliers to tell them what his farm needs. “[Suppliers] can help with things like mechanization,” he explained. “They are willing to listen and they try to come up with a way to help us solve our problems. You have to be open to the conversations because you never know where they are going to go.”
Bernie Thiel of Sunburst Farms in Texas, a two-year Connect veteran, says thanks to the Connect he now has developed relationships and is doing business with suppliers in Oregon, California, and Michigan that he probably wouldn’t be working with if it wasn’t for the Connect.
Like the growers, suppliers also mentioned the benefit of relationship building.
A first-time supplier attending the VegetableGrowerConnect, Don Lester of Vestaron Corp. discussed his company’s plan to launch a biopesticide either late 2017 or early 2018 that will target lepidopteran pests. Called Spear-C, the product is based on a component of spider venom and is designed for use on both fruit and vegetable crops.
Lester, the company’s Vice President of Product Development, said the Connect is “a good venue to meet influential growers to get us on their radar for future products and get them on board to be early adopters [of Spear-C].
The highlight of the event for Lester was that several of the growers he met with were willing to conduct demonstration trials in their fields.
What is Lester’s advice to suppliers thinking about taking part in the Connects?
“If you are looking for visibility and exposure to influential growers, coming to the Connect will be a good move for you,” he said. “Our company is very happy with this concept and the results.”
Like Lester, Bobby Mitra of Evonik, the supplier of Stockosorb, a water-absorbing crystal or hydrogel, said attending the Connect is an effective way to get in touch with the decision makers from grower operations. His goal is to have the growers he met with at the Connect trial the product.
“For the growers, it is a chance for them to learn about Stockosorb, which helps with water conservation and more efficient use of water,” he said.
In the end it is all about building relationships between growers and suppliers with the common goal of helping growers better do their jobs.
The next VegetableGrowerConnect is scheduled for Nov. 14 -17 in Park City, UT. To find out more information, go to VegetableGrowerConnect.com. An event for growers in the Eastern U.S., SoutheastGrowerConnect, will be held February 7 – 10, 2017 at the Legacy Lodge at Lanier Island in Buford, GA.