Dec. 5---Learning how to become smaller, leaner and smarter was
a major topic of discussion at the 22nd annual Fruit and
Vegetable Growers Conference, Nov. 30 through Dec. 1 in Gulf Shores.
Above: Monte Nesbitt, an Alabama Cooperative
Extension System horticulturist, fields a question from a grower at
the 22nd Annual Fruit and Vegetable Growers Conference.
The pressures of economic globalization and other
factors are forcing Alabama fruit and vegetable growers to
completely rethink not only what they produce but how to market it
to a highly discriminating consumer public.
"Basically, they’re being pushed in two
different directions, either becoming larger corporate entities or
converting into smaller, leaner and smarter operations in terms of
what they produce and how they market these products," says Dr.
Joseph Kemble, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System
horticulturist who organizes the annual event.
Most growers, Kemble says, are choosing the latter
approach, becoming leaner and more focused on what they produce and
how they reach consumers with these products.
"It’s all a question of survival," he
says. "If they don’t adapt, they’re going to
Growers specializing in tomato and watermelon
production, for example, have been especially affected in recent
years by competition from Mexico and other foreign countries that
are producing and exporting vast amounts of tomatoes and melons into
the United States. This has forced many growers to switch to other,
sometimes less traditional products that often appeal to an entirely
"More and more, they’re going out and seeing
what’s needed and when," Kemble says.
The biggest success stories associated with this new
approach often occur when growers tap into an upscale grocery store
or restaurant chain, providing them with a reliable and steady
supply of a highly specialized product that is hard to find
"It all boils down to niche marketing,"
Kemble says. "Growers are finding it harder and harder to turn
out conventional products, such as tomatoes and watermelons, so they’re
developing new products to reach new markets."
On the other hand, some growers who choose to stick
with conventional products have succeeded where others have failed
by developing unique marketing strategies, often by reaching highly
One producer, for example, is still raising
tomatoes, but he’s found an entirely new way to market the
product: selling them over the Internet.
Even better, the inroads he’s gained from
producing tomatoes will now enable him to branch out into other
products, Kemble says.
Another major topic discussed at the conference
concerned the chronic labor shortages faced by many growers
throughout the state.
"It’s one of the perennial topics of
discussions at our annual conference – where to get it and how to
run the gauntlet of red tap associated with hiring labor,"
Another recurrent concern within the last few years
has been pesticides.
In the past, growers were able to rely on an arsenal
of so-called broad-spectrum chemicals that could be applied to a
variety of different crops to control a wide array of different
Recently, however, EPA regulations have required
growers to switch to a new family of chemicals that are safer for
the environment but less convenient and more expensive from the
standpoint of the grower.
"The focus of these chemicals have become more
narrow and the mode of action more specific in the way they combat
insects and plant pests," Kemble says. "As a result,
growers are having to learn a lot more about these chemicals and how
they should be handled and applied."
"It all goes back to this issue of becoming
smarter," he adds.
This year’s conference attracted more than 200
participants, an increase of between 40 and 50 over last year. In
addition to acquainting growers with the latest changes and advances
in fruit and vegetable production, the conference also serves as an
in-service training session for Alabama Cooperative Extension agents
throughout the state.
(Source: Dr. Joe
Kemble, Alabama Cooperative Extension System Horticulturist,