Market volatility quite a challenge Profitability is the key to successful farming. So vegetable producers, like all farmers, must be able to maintain profit potential year in and year out.

Market volatility makes this quite a challenge at times. However, with another growing season just around the corner, there are some things growers should consider for profitability.

Planning is essential for success whether it is a transplanted or direct-seeded crop. Carefully laying out some of your production practices may help you complete the tasks in a timely manner. Timing is critical for successful production of vegetables. Planning will help insure that when it is time to complete production tasks, you are prepared to get it done.

Irrigation is another important part of vegetable profitability. True, it may be a costly initial investment. It may also be the difference between having a crop to sell and not, as witnessed in much of the Southeast this year.

Most vegetables are about 90 percent water, so it stands to reason that irrigation is critical. For example, one study over two years showed an increase in watermelon yield of about half a truck load per acre with drip or overhead irrigation versus no irrigation.

Plastic mulch and drip irrigation increased yield by about a truck load per acre.

The bottom line is that irrigation pays. The type of irrigation is not that important just as long as you have some.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) should be a part of every vegetable grower's program. IPM is simply the practice of wisely using all of your resources to produce a quality product in the most profitable manner.

Part of that system is knowing what pest problems to expect and scouting for them on a regular basis.

Key to any IPM scouting program is identifying problems as soon as they are noticed. Once you know what the pest is, then you can develop an appropriate control strategy. Preventing problems is much cheaper than correcting them.

Harvesting a quality product is only half the battle. Worldwide, about 38 percent of harvested produce never reaches consumers. Once the crop is harvested, quality can no longer be improved, only maintained.

Post-harvest handling of the produce means getting it to the end user while maintaining the highest quality possible. Treating the produce with tender, loving care and cooling it is the way to keep vegetables fresh all the way to the consumer.

All of the above mentioned practices are important aspects of vegetable production as we come to the end of 2000 and begin planning for 2001. Unfortunately, initial investment costs for these things may be substantial and prevent some from doing them.

However, growers should look past that initial cost and evaluate what it is costing them to not properly cool produce, for example. Remember, it may no longer be a question of whether you can afford to do it, but can you afford not to do it?

Growers will have an opportunity to hone their profitability skills at this year's Southeast Vegetable and Fruit Expo and AgTech 2000. The joint conference will take place Dec. 11-13, 2000 at the Sheraton Greensboro Hotel at Four Seasons in Greensboro, N.C.

Educational sessions on vegetables and precision agriculture for all crops, along with an extensive trade show will be held throughout the three day event.