American Vegetable Grower asked its Top 100 candidates to sound off on a few of the major issues impacting the industry. Growers sent us their responses covering fuel prices, labor shortages, food safety, and their marketing strategies.
Here are the questions and some of the responses we received:
Q. In light of current fuel prices, what are you doing to help keep costs in check?
A. One grower said it is “resizing” its fleet in order to make further fuel reductions. By reducing the horse-power requirements for specific operations, this farm is getting the same jobs done with less engine power and less fuel consumption. An adjunct to this effort is the “matching of the tool to the job.” The idea is to match the right tractor with the right job to conduct a specific farm operation. In addition, GPS navigation is being used on all land preparation tractors, reducing tractor hours.
Another grower mentioned locking gas caps on all tractors and field trucks to avoid theft, while another indicated that careful attention is paid to land preparation to make sure it is not wasting an operation or overdoing work. Stressing costs to employees to avoid waste is another tactic used.
Yet another grower watches the market, trying to purchase fuel when the prices go down. Overall, many indicate they are trying to use less fuel or conserve fuel whenever possible.
Q. How are you dealing with labor shortages this growing season?
A. The labor shortage has been helped by the recent housing slump, says one operation. As the housing market has slowed, more labor has moved into agriculture.
Others say that their only choice in the labor area right now is H-2A workers and pay more for domestic help. There is a need, many growers have said, for a simplified H-2A program.
One grower says his operation is progressive with its labor policies. Because workers are the heart and soul of the operation, this farm provides them with excellent benefits and wages. In general, a culture of excellence is promoted on the farm.
Q. How have marketing strategies influenced your choices in terms of what crops to plant and where to sell?
A. Many growers say that the best strategy is to offer fresh and great tasting produce that looks good. One grower is invested in ongoing research and development. Through research, the farm is able to enhance the seed varieties of its products so they are more aesthetically appealing to consumers.
Unfortunately for some, however, increases in freight rates have caused growers to re-evaluate competitiveness in local markets. Many of the larger growers focus business to reflect nationwide trends.
Q. What are you doing to ensure the safety of your fresh produce?
A. Food safety is a critical issue for growers across the board. Some have gone as far as to have an employee dedicated to overseeing food safety concerns. On top of that, more and more in-house testing is taking place to help ensure that the safest produce possible is released into the marketplace. Regular safety meetings with employees also are more frequent. On top of that, growers say that many outside companies are conducting inspections and third-party audits.
Some of AVG’s Top 100 Growers are following the Leafy Greens Food Safety Agreement. One who follows the Leafy Greens agreement says his farm constantly monitors industry changes and takes a leadership role in the implementation of new science-based procedures. In fact, this grower is looking at the implementation of GPS-based harvesting equipment in its overall food safety plan.