farm expo

Abbey Garris with McCall Farms serves Sharon Vaughn some beans last year during the Seventh Annual S.C. AgriBiz and Farm Expo in Florence.

FLORENCE, S.C. — For large-scale growers or those who are considering fruits and vegetables for cash crops, the S.C. AgriBiz & Farm Expo is the place to be Wednesday and Thursday.

Fruits and vegetables are important Carolina crops, and the S.C. AgriBiz & Farm Expo being held at the Florence Center is where growers can learn how to maximize their potential. They will learn about cash crops such as blueberries, pecans and Christmas trees.

As in past expos, the 2020 event will include sessions both days in the vegetable and alternatives track. Admission to the expo and all seminars is free.

Continuing education for farmers across the Carolinas is a key mission of the expo, said Jody Martin, one of the expo organizers.

Fruits, vegetables and alternatives sessions begin at 11 a.m. Wednesday with “Keeping Your Crop Safe to Eat.” Farmers will be given an update on the produce safety rule that focuses on the first-ever regulatory standards for the production, harvesting and handling of fruits and vegetables. The seminar will be taught by Kelly Johnson and Brooke Horton, both with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture.

“Keeping Your Crop Pretty Enough to Eat” begins at 11:45 a.m. This seminar will help farmers learn how to best harvest and hold their produce to keep it looking good until it goes to market. The seminar will be presented by Dr. Penelope Perkins-Veazie, a professor at North Carolina State University and an expert in phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables and how they are affected by post-harvest handling and storage.

At 2 p.m. Wednesday, farmers can learn the best ways to direct market their products. Discussion will focus on best practices of selling at farmers markets, as well as tips on how to increase sales through pricing strategy and promotion. The seminar will be taught by Steve Richards, an agribusiness Extension associate at Clemson University.

Fruit and vegetable sessions continue Thursday with a seminar on blueberry production at 11 a.m. The seminar will be taught by Bruce McLean, commercial horticulture agent with Clemson Extension.

“Blueberry production in South Carolina is definitely an area we can really expand on,” McLean said.

He said blueberries can be grown in just about every corner of the Carolinas, and the Pee Dee is one of those areas. He said the soil here is good for blueberries.

“We have few operators in the Pee Dee,” McLean said.

McLean spoke last year on tapping into markets for fruit and vegetable production. He was with the North Carolina Extension service but has since started working for Clemson Extension.

In his seminar, McLean will provide farmers with the necessary steps to succeed with the crop.

McLean said the AgriBiz Expo offers a connection between growers and those in the farming industry. He said it is important to make a connection with the growers and this event allows them to do just that.

Pecans are another important Carolina crop. Mark Arena, pecan specialist with Clemson Extension, will explain what is required to have a successful pecan operation. The seminar is set for Thursday at 11:45 a.m.

A “Lunch ‘n’ Learn” session will be held at 12:15 p.m. Thursday. It will feature well-known Clemson Extension horticulture agent Tony Melton, who will give keys to finding success in a tough and challenging business. Melton emphasizes that “growing vegetables ain’t easy, folks. You need expertise, knowledge, wisdom, training, aces up your sleeves, entrepreneurship, and blessings from heaven to be successful.”

Another Lunch ‘n’ Learn session at 12:30 p.m. will feature Sidi Limehouse, 2019 Swisher South Carolina Farmer of the Year, and Zack Snipes, area horticulture agent with Clemson Extension. Limehouse operates Rosebank Farms on 60 acres of leased land that produces over 50 crops including fruits, vegetables, flowers and herbs. Most of the crops are sold to GrowFood Carolina, a local food distributor specializing in selling directly to Charleston restaurants and local grocery stores and suppliers.

At 1 p.m., Stewart Higgins, director of agriculture/supply chain with McCall Farms will discuss the importance of variety selection for fruits and vegetables that are well suited to the Carolina climates. Higgins will also discuss the importance of expanding the number of specialty crop growers in the states.

At 2 p.m., Andy Rollins, food crop agent with Clemson Extension, will offer pointers on establishing and growing commercial blackberries and peaches. He will also discuss disease and insect problems in the two crops.

At 2:45 p.m., Jackie Jordan, horticulture agent with Clemson Extension, will discuss the basics of sod production. She will explain the types of grasses that can be grown, the equipment needed and the market potential for sod.

At 3:30 p.m., Mark Arena, pecan specialist with Clemson Extension, will offer insights on what it takes to be a Christmas tree farmer in South Carolina.

In addition to continuing education for fruit and vegetable farmers, the S.C. AgriBiz & Farm Expo will include the Carolina Hemp Conference and educational opportunities for farmers of all commodities across the Carolinas. The expo also features a farm show with a wide variety of equipment, farm products and educational components.

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