American Vegetable Grower magazine made its way to the Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association (OPGMA) Summer Tour & Field Day on June 24, which included visits to two Ohio operations, Ramseyer Farms, located in Wooster, OH, and Rittman Orchards in Doylestown, OH.
The first stop on the all-day tour was at Ramseyer Farms, a fifth generation 720-acre potato farm with a focus on agritainment. In one of the first sessions, Eric Barrett, Extension educator at Ohio State University (OSU) discussed emergency preparedness, and the importance of devising a plan if you choose to include any agritainment components at your operation.
Suggestions included having a comment already prepared in the case of emergency, writing an emergency preparedness plan and going over it with your employees, and talking to your insurer or lawyer about the next steps should there be an emergency.
Next up was information on budgeting for labor and wages from Erin Pirro, farm business consultant from Farm Credit East. Although Pirro was unable to make it to the field day, information from her presentation was shared including tips on developing successful benchmarks for labor, analyzing your labor resources, and setting profit goals. Pirro will be speaking on the topic at the 2016 OPGMA Congress in January for those interested in more detailed information.
In a concurrent session, two Ramseyer Farms volunteers discussed guided school tours the farm offers during fall months, highlighting some of the successes and challenges the farm has faced managing the crowds.
During the busy season, which is September through early November, the farm welcomes thousands of visitors who can tour two mazes — a mystery maze, which changes each year, or the Ohio maze, which is spread across 8.5 acres, and offers Ohio history, and other assorted trivia.
The farm also features hay rides, animals, a giant slide hill, a race track, among other attractions.
After lunch, the group headed over to Rittman Orchards for a tractor tour of the operation and a visit to the operation’s farm market. The orchard grows 70 acres of apples, 20 varieties of yellow peaches, as well as cherries, berries, plums, Asian pears, and a few select vegetable crops. Pick-your-own strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and pumpkins are offered seasonally.
A tractor ride through the operation took guests through the farm’s orchards, making a first stop at the blueberry fields, where Gary Gao of OSU Extension discussed upcoming varieties the farm will be using, which included Sweetheart (available from Stark Bro’s). Gao mentioned the use of overhead netting to protect the bushes from birds, and said it’s not unusual for up to 25% of berries to be lost to the pests.
The group also learned the orchard is growing blackberries in tunnels, which Gao said has led to season extension benefits, protection from external elements, and an overall increase in production.
In the strawberry fields, Brad Bergefurd, horticulture specialist of OSU Extension, discussed the operation’s matted row production technique.
However, according to Bergefurd’s research, plasticulture is becoming an increasingly popular way for Ohio growers to extend the strawberry harvest and marketing season, offering higher yield and reduced environmental impact.