“We’re able to maximize our efficiency in what we’re doing. Where I was trying to grow 40 to 50 acres of tomatoes, three years ago we downsized to 12 acres of tomatoes. When we were initially growing 200 acres of tomatoes, our average production was 500 to 700 boxes of tomatoes per acre. We peaked three years ago at nearly 2,000 boxes per acre in our best year, and we average 1,500 to 1,600 boxes per acre. That’s good in south Alabama.

“By downsizing, I can take those acres where I’ve already invested money and know my crop will have an increased yield, which will in turn increase our retail sales. By downsizing, diversifying, and maximizing the efficiency on what we are planting, we’re able to be where we are today.”

Aplin tries to stay one step ahead and never stop learning.

“Don’t wait for someone else to do it — don’t wait for someone else in your area to grow something or to try something new.

“I’m not saying to rush out and plant 50 acres of something. But if you see something in a seed catalog that looks like something a customer would buy, or if you’re at a market and several people ask about a product, then plant a little of it and see how it goes. If you can grow it and sell it, then you need to be growing more of it.”

Aplin also advises growers to visit with their seed, fertilizer and chemical dealers to find out what’s new.

“Be willing to experiment on a small scale with new products and rates. We do on-farm research, participating in variety trials so we’ll be the first ones to get it if it’s successful.”

Also, utilize your resources, says Aplin, such as the Southern Vegetable Growers Handbook — a product of several universities and hundreds of scientists who compiled information over several years.

“Seed catalogs also are a valuable resource, and many of them contain cultural guides. Our ultimate goal is to make a profit or a living, but we do better if we depend on one another.

“We’re still competitors, but in Alabama, where we have 1,100 growers and 140 markets, there are markets out there begging for growers. We could never feed our state if we had to.”

It’s important for growers to find their niche, says Aplin.