On Monday, Jan. 11, 2016 vegetable and small fruit growers from the state and beyond gathered at Maneeley’s Conference Center in South Windsor, CT for their annual conference. Mary Concklin from the UConn Extension Center acted as moderator for the morning session. Jatinder Aulakh, Weed Scientist from the CT. Agricultural Experiment Station welcomed the attendees to the conference. With 266 in the audience this annual conference was well attended again this year and were treated to a variety of topics.
The first speakers of the day were Heather Callahan and Neley Agudelo, Investigators from the U.S. Dept. of Labor who addressed the topic of how to comply with labor laws and survive a U.S. Dept. of Labor investigation. The rights of farm workers are covered under the provisions of the U.S. Dept. of Labor and covers an array of situations and conditions under which employees might find themselves in during the course of such employment. Many workers fall under the Migrant and Seasonal Ag Worker Protection Act (MSPA). Items falling under the MSPA umbrella include wages, housing, transportation, working conditions and work-related conditions. For instance, agricultural laborers must be paid the federal minimum wage with certain exceptions but are exempt from the time and a half requirement seen in other industries. There are other exemptions to the minimum wage law for seasonal workers who work for an employer fewer than 500 man days in any calendar quarter of the previous year. For employees under the age of 20 there are different requirements and exemptions. To read the MSPA visit www.dol.gov/whd/reg/statutes/0001.mspa .
In Oct. of 2015 the Agricultural Work Protection Standard (WPS) was revised to afford greater protection to those workers whose duties include the handling and use of pesticides. The new measures are better defined and more specific than those in place before the Oct. date. The EPA is in charge of implementing and enforcing the regulations.
Brian Hurlbert who heads up the state office of the USDA’s Farm Service Program reviewed the numerous farm insurance programs managed by the program. Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Reviczky reviewed the numerous programs that his department is managing as follows. The farm transition program offers matching funds of up to $49,000. The Food Safety Modernization Act is being closely watched to see how it may affect CT producers and consumers. The Farmland Preservation Act is continuing its work of insuring that select parcels of CT farmland are preserved forever under the provisions of the act. A program is also in place to act as mediator between individuals looking to lease their land and those looking for land to lease for agricultural use. The farmland restoration program continues to provide partial funding for the restoration of abandoned farmland to a state of productivity. The CT Grown Program continues to grow toward the goal of 10% of all food budgets spent on CT grown produce.
Dianne Hirsch of the UConn Extension team spoke about issues relating to food safety and the GAP program . Candace Bartholomew provided additional insights on the WPS program. Presently there is a two year timeframe between the effective date and the date of implementation to allow training programs to be developed, certify trainers and solicit input from all of those who may be affected by the program.
Meg McGrath, Associate Professor at Cornell’s Long Island Horticultural Research and Extension Center, Riverhead, LI explained techniques for heat-treating seeds for disease control. This treatment is designed to control bacterial diseases only and not those of a fungal or viral origin. Prof. McGrath explained that young seeds are much more responsive to treatment, especially if a good protocol has been developed. They should be seeds that will be planted that season for best results. She said the process is relatively easy as long as the directions are followed. Water is preheated to 100 F after which seeds are held in held in the water bath at 122 F for 25 minutes. Once the heating period is completed the seeds are cooled immediately. To dry the seeds a piece of window screen or coffee filter is used depending on the size of the seed. For those who chose to have an outside source do the treatment the Horticulture Lab at UMass is equipped to do the job.
Chris Wein, Professor Emeritus, Horticulture, Cornell University gave the audience a number of explanations as to erratic plant behavior during the past growing season. Environmental extremes can have a profound effect on plant physiology. Temperature affects plant growth, if lower than normal plant growth is slow and when above average plants are stressed. Stress may speed up plant growth disturbing flower formation, flowering, and fruit setting. Peppers react by having buds fall off instead of developing into open flowers. Large bell peppers are most susceptible resulting in even small buds falling off. Tomatoes react to heat stress by failing to produce pollen. Pumpkins respond to hot weather by failing to produce female flowers a condition worsened if plants are crowded. Sunscald can best be avoided by taking measure to maximize foliage growth to protect the fruit from the sun.
Drought is best addressed by irrigation if an adequate water supply is available. Planting deep is also helpful. Cold temperatures reduce the rate of growth of some plants especially melons and squash and in many varieties flowering patterns are altered. Too much water can be almost as harmful as too little, when fields are flooded water uptake by the roots is prevented as the roots are literally drowned and root rot will occur if water levels do not return to normal in a short period of time. When rivers and brooks overflow their banks and flood vegetable fields the source of that water becomes a concern from a food safety standpoint. If the time fields are flooded is 48 hours or less most plants will recover and resume a normal growth patterns. It was suggested that flooded fields be cultivated as soon as possible after flooding to allow rapid drying. When plants are subjected to wet conditions early, root development is retarded making those plants more susceptible to drought conditions later in the season.
Weed control is a never ending battle but new strategies are always evolving. Nate Nourse from Nourse Farms in South Deerfield, MA came to share some of the strategies his farm uses in controlling weeds in berries. Nate strongly suggested that growers not feel they must get their plants in the ground early. In his opinion its better to wait until soil temperatures moderate before planting. In the CT River valley this is usually from mid to late May. The Nourse’s use a three-pronged approach to weed control. First allow weed seeds to germinate thus reducing the weed seed bank — don’t cultivate just for the sake of looking pretty. Next if possible, apply pre and post emergence herbicides just before a good soaking rain of 1-2 inches. Lastly, do not cultivate until the first runners appear and practice shallow tillage. Recommended herbicides can be applied with irrigation after planting if conditions warrant.
Trevor Hardy from the Brookdale Fruit Farm in Hollis, NH offered some ideas on irrigation systems. In addition to operating the orchard they offer a full line of irrigation equipment and the support necessary to establish and set up a suitable system for any operation. Drip irrigation is recommended for most conventional vegetable and small fruit operations. First these systems use about one quarter to one third as much water as overhead systems, NRCS supports such activity and water is placed where it is needed at the root of the plants. In addition these drip systems can be used to apply fertilizer efficiently.
CSA’s are a fast growing component of vegetable and small fruit marketing. Bruce Gresczyk, Jr. of the Gresczyk Farms in New Hartford, CT came to the meeting to explain how he operates his CSA. The scale of Bruce’s operation is impressive with 500 customers in 2015. Large enough to require pick up locations away from the home farm lessening the travel time for customers. Their season is 20 weeks long and an impressive number of varieties are offered for sale during the course of the season. Customers have a number of expectations when buying into such a program with freshness being high on the list. In addition they expect variety together with good quantity and quality in their weekly pick up. Those who participate also enjoy a higher level of communication with the farmer than the average citizen.
For those doing a feasibility study about their own CSA there are some very basic questions that must be answered before making the plunge. The first question is what type of a CSA to develop. What produce do you grow well? How many shares can or should you sell? How long of a season? Do you have enough of a labor force to carry out all of the necessary tasks? What happens if a crop fails? What quick back up crop do you have to take its place? There are many items to consider before getting involved.
The last speaker of the day was Mary Concklin, Visiting Associate Extension Educator, Fruit IPM & Production at UConn. She addressed problems associated with the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, one of the bad species in the Stink Bug family. This bug is now considered an agricultural pest in most parts of the state. It made the list because of its potential to destroy fruit, vegetables and agronomic crops. It can move into a crop very quickly — oftentimes catching growers off guard. It has a wide host range suggesting that its appetite is broad and not very discriminating. Over 170 plants in almost any category have been identified as hosts but there are some favorites which include apples, pears peaches, plums, cherries, tomatoes, corn, many ornamentals and many others. The damage done by this insect can be mistaken for other pests as well as physiological problems such as calcium and boron deficiencies. She mentioned that control measures taken with pesticides can undo years of IPM work so it is better to nip this pest in the bud — so to speak.