Horticulture in Kentucky continues to be big business. After a difficult 2007, including a late freeze and extreme drought conditions, Kentucky's fruit and vegetable growers saw better growing conditions in 2008.
Soon, growers will have an opportunity to hone their skills when the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture hosts a joint meeting of the Kentucky State Horticulture Society, the Kentucky Vegetable Growers Association, the Kentucky Farmers' Market Association and the Kentucky Grape and Wine Short Course, Jan. 5-6 at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Lexington.
New to the conference this year is an Ag Mechanization and Marketing Innovations Contest available to registered participants.
"This contest is going to be good for our participants who have designed and built their own labor saving equipment, modified existing equipment to make it do their job better or who have come up with a great farmers' market display item or a better way to handle and move product to the market," said John Strang, UK College of Agriculture horticulture specialist. "Judges will be Janet Eaton from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, Terry Jones from the UK Robinson Station and John Wilhoit from UK's biosystems and agricultural engineering department. We hope the entries will spark some innovative ideas in our conference participants."
Highlights of this year's meeting are a pre-conference Microsoft Excel spread sheet training session, pesticide certification training and sessions on farmers' markets, commercial fruit and vegetable production, small fruit production, organic farming and gardening, the Grape and Wine Short Course, winemaking, marketing, cucurbit production and greenhouse management.
"Success with fruit and vegetables is most always based on a producer's management skills, especially being able to do things on time," said John Strang, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture horticulture specialist. "This conference is for beginners and experienced growers alike. We think we have something to share with everyone, no matter how steep their learning curve."
Concurrent sessions will take place throughout the event, covering many aspects of fruit and vegetable production, including commercial tree fruit, winemaking and farmers' markets.
Fruit and vegetable experts from across the United States will speak at the joint conference session Jan. 6. Special out-of-state speakers include: Robert Klein, an Extension cropping systems specialist at the West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte, Neb.; Ron Morse, a vegetable crops researcher at Virginia Tech University; Ric Weinzierl, an Extension entomologist at the University of Illinois; Maurus Brown, a viticulturist at The Ohio State University South Center in Piketon, Ohio; Joe Masabni, an Extension vegetable specialist at Texas A & M University; Annette Wszelaki, a commercial vegetable production specialist at the University of Tennessee; Tammy Algood, an Extension food marketing specialist at the University of Tennessee, Nashville, Tenn.; George Killgore, the Extension director at the University of Tennessee Extension's office in Davidson County, Tenn. and Dave Lockwood, an Extension fruit specialist at the University of Tennessee.
The Kentucky Vineyard Society will have an optional Celebration of Kentucky Wines featuring Kentucky wines prior to the banquet.
Gary Palmer, assistant director for agriculture and natural resources, will present the UK College of Agriculture's Vision for the Future and the Pickin Time Bluegrass Band will provide banquet entertainment.
The Celebration of Kentucky Wines will be open to the public this year. The cost is $10 for 12 tickets to taste Kentucky Wines and those interested can pay in advance or pay at the door. Entrance will be limited to 200 attendees, so Strang encourages pre-registration for the wine tasting.
Conference registration is $30 and includes a one-year membership in the Kentucky Vegetable Growers Association or Kentucky State Horticulture Society and entry into the Grape and Wine Short Course.
The conference is jointly sponsored by the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, Kentucky State University and the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.
For more information about the conference, or to request registration materials, contact Mary Ann Kelley at 270-365-7541, ext. 216. The conference program and registration sheet are available online at the following address, http://www.uky.edu/Ag/Horticulture/meetings.html.