A crowd of 600-700 fruit and vegetable growers from the Carolinas will gather on Nov. 26-28 for the 27th annual Carolina Vegetable and Fruit Expo, held this year in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Conference Coordinator Bonnie Holloman says attendance for the annual event has climbed steadily over the past few years. A large exhibit hall, with more than 100 exhibitors will be a major part of the annual event.

Keynote speaker for the Expo is Richard Linton, recently appointed Dean of the College of Agriculture at North Carolina State University. In addition to his administrative roles, Linton is a highly respected expert in the area of food safety.

Something new for this year’s expo will be an auction of vegetables provided by Carolina growers. A number of grocery stores will be competing for the products and the proceeds will be used to promote the Carolina vegetable industry and for research conducted on fruit and vegetable crops.

The meeting begins with presentations by the North Carolina and South Carolina Vegetable Growers Association leaders. Master of Ceremonies for the opening event is Kendall Hill, chairman of the North Carolina Association and co-owner and operator of Tull Hill Farms, a large, diverse vegetable farming operation in Kinston, N.C.

Holloman points out that this event is truly a growers meeting. Though a large number of vendors and industry leaders attend, the bulk of attendance is from active fruit and vegetable growers in North and South Carolina.

Food safety is a highlight of this year’s expo. A number of food safety experts from the Carolinas and other parts of the country will make presentations during this year’s event.

Highlight of the Expo is traditionally presentations, called learning sessions, by fruit and vegetable experts, including university research and Extension leaders, agri-business leaders and farmers, who have excelled in some particular area of fruit and vegetable production in the Carolinas and surrounding states.

Pickling cucumbers

The learning sessions will begin at 10 a.m. on Tuesday with a session onpickling cucumbers presented by Jonathan Schultheis, Billy Little and Allan Thornton from North Carolina State University.

Included in the cucumber session will be presentations on drip irrigation and mechanical harvesting by North Carolina State University specialists.

Cucurbit growers in the Southeast fight an ongoing battle with downy mildew, and University of Georgia Horticulturist David Langston will discuss management systems for controlling mildew and a number of other commonly occurring diseases in vegetable crops in the Southeast.

North Carolina State University Agriculture Economist Gary Bullen will close the opening session on Tuesday with an update on pickling cucumber enterprise budgets.

The first concurrent session on Tuesday morning will feature grafting, which some say is the future of vegetable production in the Southeast.

Grafting experts from Clemson, Virginia Tech and North Carolina State universities will discuss different areas of vegetable grafting, beginning with an overall presentation on grafting vegetables by Pennie Perkins-Veazie from North Carolina State University and Richard Hassell from Clemson University.

Researchers from North Carolina State University, in cooperation with other universities and agri-business companies, including Farm Press, recently won a large multi-year grant to study grafting of various vegetable crops.

Frank Louws, North Carolina State University will discuss the goals of the project and how it will provide economic benefits to growers.

At ll:00 a.m. during the grafting session, Josh Freeman, Virginia Tech University, will discuss some ways to integrate grafted tomatoes into commercial tomato production.

The presentation will be followed by a similar presentation on grafting of watermelons, and how it affects yield and quality, by Jonathan Schultheis, North Carolina State University and a second watermelon grafting presentation by Pennie Perkins-Veazie, also from North Carolina State University.

The third morning session on Tuesday will feature a workshop on Best Practices to Reduce Risks and Impacts in Vegetable Production, presented by Audrey Kreske and Chris Gunter from North Carolina State University.

Concurrent afternoon sessions on Tuesday will run from 2-4 p.m.

The first session will feature  the local marketing of fruit and vegetable products. The session will be led by marketing specialists Kevin Hardison from the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and Fred Broughton, from the South Carolina Department of Agriculture.

Presentations during this session will include: How Local Food Impacts Food Service by Matt Tunnell, from Fresh Point Raleigh, and North Carolina food distribution Company.

How retail incorporates demand for locally grown food by Dick McKellogg, from Lowes Foods.

Tunnell also will lead a session on local foods and how they currently impact the food industry and how this impact will change in the future.

Irrigation topics

Other afternoon sessions will include a presentation by Clemson University Fruit and Vegetable Specialist Gilbert Miller. He is an expert on various methods of irrigation for watermelon and other fruit crops and has worked extensively with growers in South Carolina to develop high tech and highly efficient systems for irrigating fruit and vegetable crops.

Soil fumigation and some innovative methods for capitalizing on fruit and vegetable crops after they are harvested will highlight two other afternoon sessions.

One presentation in particular will be of interest to all growers in attendance, and that is a session of planning for your financial future without giving away the farm, presented by Victor Ngai, a lawyer and financial planner with the Guardian Life Insurance Company.

Mark Abney, who worked in the sweet potato industry for a number of years prior to joining North Carolina State University as a vegetable entomologist, will lead a session on sweet potato production basics to kick off the Wednesday morning program.

He also will give a presentation on sweet potato insect management and provide a research update on vegetable insect management.

The sweet potato session also will include presentations on varieties, herbicides and herbicide/crop interactions, which will be presented by Katie Jennings, Steven Meyers, Lauren Coleman and David Monks, from North Carolina State University.

Gary Bullen, an ag economist at North Carolina State University will close the session with a presentation on sweet potato production budgets.

A sweet corn session will run concurrently in the morning session. It will include presentations on improving quality and profit of sweet corn production in the Southeast, variety trial results, insect management and the use of Bt technology.

Dick Tunnell, owner and operator of Tunnell Farms, will close the session with a grower’s perspective on new technology and profitability in vegetable production.

One of the highlights of the annual meeting is an industry-wide update on ‘hot topics’. This year hot topics include: Growing hops in the Carolinas, growing broccoli in the Southeast, the impact of viruses on fresh produce, and a presentation on risk management for vegetable growers.

Registration for the 2012 Expo can be done online or by contacting the North Carolina Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association or the South Carolina Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.

rroberson@farmpress.com