Farmers Find New Ways to Problem Solve

Farmers Find New Ways to Problem Solve

Joel Ackerknecht, Vice President of Operations at D.M. Camp & Sons, finds out what Compass Minerals can do for his operation from Marci Rhind, the company’s Strategic Communications Manager.

Ski lifts and mountains dominated the views at FruitGrowerConnect and VegetableGrowerConnect in November. Some of the largest and most progressive growers of fruits, nuts, and vegetable crops in the West convened at the Hyatt Centric in Park City, UT, for private, one-on-one meetings with experienced suppliers.

The individual 50-minute meetings focused on each farm’s needs with the goal of finding solutions to specific farming challenges. Suppliers in attendance offered solutions in areas ranging from crop protection and plant health to labor and irrigation.

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Prior to the event, each grower is interviewed to determine the farm’s most urgent issues and what will be needed to help the operation grow in the future. Suppliers were recruited based on the solutions they can offer to help growers with their specific needs.

These efforts culminated in two days of high-level strategic meetings between decision makers on the grower side and suppliers who can help them achieve their goals.

A Positive Grower Experience

Jake Barcellos at A-Bar Ag Enterprises in Firebaugh, CA, a grower of almonds, pistachios and several vegetable crops, said the event was a positive experience for him. “If you haven’t been [to Connect] before, this event is a good opportunity to meet new people, find out what other operations are doing, and learn from different vendors.”

The biggest draw for Jeff Swenning, Field Operations Manager at Wawona Packing Co., a Cutler, CA, grower of peaches, nectarines, and other fruit crops, also included hearing about new and innovative products and meeting new growers from the West. Swenning liked that the event is different from a trade show, and enjoyed having the one-on-one opportunity to ask specific questions of the suppliers.

Emily Georgeson at Bolthouse Farms of Bakersfield, CA, a grower of carrots, said the event was an efficient use of time. “Having access to so many people [suppliers and growers] allows you to get as much information as you can in such a short amount of time.”

She also said having the meeting times set at 50-minutes is right on target. “[The 50-minutes] gives adequate time to provide background on our problems, what solutions we are trying to find, and what solutions the suppliers can offer to us,” Georgeson added.

Growers and suppliers had opportunities during FruitGrowerConnect and VegetableGrowerConnect to network during the opening reception and meals. Pictured here (left to right) Fernando Montealegre of Tasteful Selections, Brian Souza of DiMare, Jason Brown of Mercer Ranches , and Aaron Jimenez or Advancing Eco Agriculture.

The Supplier Impact

FruitGrowerConnect and VegetableGrowerConnect provide suppliers with a forum to discuss areas in which they can help a grower contribute to the operation’s bottom line while focusing on specific needs.

“The growers at Connect are top-level managers and decision makers who really live farming every day,” said Marty Campfield, Vice President of Domestic Sales and Marketing at Azomite Soil Products, LLC. “They know what is involved and they know their challenges and needs very clearly. They are able to quickly look at a product and see how it will fit into their operation.

“We were able to talk about many aspects of farming, find lots of common ground to address issues and problems, and find some really good innovative solutions,” Campfield said.

Kyle Schneider, Sales Director at Eco-Drip Irrigation, added that it was nice to be in a setting where you have the grower’s undivided attention for almost an hour.

“The way Connect is structured, you have the one-on-one meetings and you also have the social events — breakfast, lunch, and dinners — so you have an opportunity to talk to [the growers] in a relaxed setting and form some good, quality connections where they will remember you as opposed to seeing them at a trade show. At Connect, you get to form a relationship over a few days instead of a 10- or 15-minute or half-hour interaction.”

Frank Miele, President of Magna Bon II, said being able to educate growers on another product, another tool to use, is invaluable.

“Some of us [supplier companies] are small and we don’t have the time to go from grower to grower, so by bringing them to Connect it allows us to educate them on another tool in the shed to use,” he explains. “It helps them and it helps us get the word out. I believe it worked very well for us.”