The conference had several different tracks; Grain & Forage Production, Livestock, High Tunnel, Vegetable, Culinary & Medicinal Plants and Aquaponics. The topics I was interested in were mainly in the Vegetable production track.
The first few sessions I attended were about Rooftop Farming, Best Crops and How to Grow Them. Ben Flanner from Brooklyn Garage Farms of NY was the presenter and these guys seem to have certainly found their niche. He shared growing techniques for micro-greens and building their rooftop beds. He stressed the importance of soil tests to keep the correct nutrient balance.
They use a 4 row seeder from Johnnys on a bed that has had a roller compact the dirt so the seeder will work properly (something this farmer will try when I find the seeder i bought and could never get to work for me). They use Quickbooks for record keeping and use it's sales tracking features for analytics. He recommended The Organic Farmer's Business Handbook for new and old farmers.
"Off season is the time to make money" was my favorite quote, meaning its the plan you make in the winter that will determine your revenue in the summer.
My next sessions were Economics & the Sustainable Manual and Organic Pest Management of brambles and berries in High Tunnels. They were hosted by Dr. Jeannie Propp and Dr. Donn Johnson from the University of Arkansas. If anyone reading this is interested in growing Apples, berries or brambles the UofA folks have some very cool financial tools you can use for FREE. Email email@example.com for a copy of them. They require MS Excel, but they have put some time into these templates and are worth getting. They talked about MyIPM a smart phone app that helps with disease and pest management. The talked about the Spotted Wing Drosophila fly that has found its way in AR. The said it started showing up mid-July and affected more of the later season berry crop than the early one. They said Entrust (spanosid) was the only organic control that showed and efficacy. The SWD only lays its eggs on the most ripe fruit when the skin of the berry is stretched thin with ripeness. The stressed the importance of storing the berries in <40 degree refrigeration to prevent the spread. Some growers are covering their crop with a mesh screen for protection, Proteknet 80 was one brand.
I popped in on a weed management session long enough to here about a technique where carrot growers flame their beds a few days before their carrots emerge from the soil. The cover a part of the bed with glass creating a small hot spot. When the carrots emerge in the hot spot they know they have a few days before the rest of the row will pop up and they flame the row at that time. Gonna try this one fer sure.
My favorite session was hosted by a real life organic row crop farmer who also sold fruits and vegetables. The session was Marketing Your Products: It's All About Confidence. Rodney Heinen of Heinen Organics asked all the right questions and said very little and still managed to make some excellent points. He carries a refractometer to measure the sugar content of his fruit with him at all times. He cautioned against too many samples because customers buy more when they are hungry. He shared how one vendor can hurt the market if they don't add value and only alienate customers (memory of a former HC vendor the first year yelling at a customer who passed his tent "What am I? Chopped Liver?"). He recommended that when a customer shares a recipe, instead of a foodies normal reaction to share a recipe as well, that you should commit to trying the recipe the customer shared. He shared a story on how he got .13 more per bushel of corn just by knowing the current trading rate and having the confidence to tell the buyer this is what I am selling at X . "Farmers should be price Makers instead of price Takers" Ron Heinen.
The Keynote address was by Joseph Simcox, The Botanical Explorer. This guy is a cross between Richard Simons and Ule Givens. He talked about traveling the world to find diverse local edible plant species that could possible help feed the world. He was very entertaining and made the point that it does not have to be GMO to be able to feed future generations.
The last session I took notes for was Managing Diseases in Organic Vegetables Before and After symptoms are found. Margarete McGrath from Cornell reviewed several strategies for combating plant diseases. Using Amaranth as a trap crop has shown better than blue hubbard squash. Many fungi attach the bloom un-noticed and then show up in the fruit. The time to manage is prior to symptoms for know issues. Carry a pocket knife to cut into plants to check for symptoms, not all are visible. Mentioned a "Downy Mildew Forecast" that is published for sensitive areas of the country. Use spray nozzles specific for fungicide used (wide dispersal area). Mentioned Serenade as an effect biological treatment.
A large seed seeder that is supposed to punch thru mulch and deposit the seed.
Went to a farm conference hoping to find a bride and I brought this back instead.....