Sep 26, 2022
EXPO to highlight issues facing vegetable growers

Production and labor costs, climate change and farm management are just a few things vegetable growers should understand to effectively run a successful farm. During the 2022 Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market EXPO, growers will learn about these issues, specifically regarding asparagus production and cut flowers. 

Daniel Drost

Dr. Dan Drost, professor of Horticulture and Extension Vegetable Specialist in the Department of Plants, Soils and Climate at Utah State University, has decades of experience in Extension and research addressing plant growth and crop production issues impacting Utah’s commercial vegetable farms. 

During Drost’s two sessions at the Great Lakes EXPO, he will discuss several topics regarding asparagus and cut flowers, including:

  • The size of the root system and its distribution in the soil and how it affects the ability of asparagus to store nutrients and carbohydrates. 
  • Farm management decisions in 2022 (soil tillage, nutrition, water and pest management). 
  • Farm profitability and other necessary strategy changes for asparagus production. 
  • How cut flowers diversify farms.
  • How growers can adapt and add new products into their production systems, ultimately increasing farm profit.


Some of the biggest issues and concerns facing asparagus growers in 2022 and 2023 include labor, increasing production costs, harvest consistency and climate change, according to Drost. He suggests growers have a good understanding of plant physiology and best farm management practices to combat some of these concerns. 

“Labor will always be an issue, so finding ways to stabilize production from day-to-day can help growers better manage their existing labor. With an improved understanding of asparagus physiology, we may eventually be able to efficiently mechanically harvest asparagus,” Drost said. “Climate uncertainty can lead to plant stress that impacts spear production both this year and next year. Finally, with a good understanding of plant physiology, farm management practices are optimized and this helps keep costs in check.”

Michigan is the largest producing region in the U.S. and is projected to meet various asparagus production demands. However, with climate change increasingly becoming an issue, the industry, as a whole, must “identify new ways to extend production earlier or later in the season,” according to Drost. 

Cut Flowers

Cut flowers present many opportunities for vegetable growers. According to Drost, cut flowers can diversify their farm and produce a high-value product. Growers will need to focus on quality and adapt to different information that will benefit their production systems. 

Growers can integrate a cut flower business into their current operation by creating a plan specifically fit for their farm. Often, growers will pull information from any source and will not customize the information or plan to fit their needs.

Ideally, it has to make sense for each farm to adopt a new production system or crop into the system. Our research and outreach efforts are focused on providing sound research information and rapid sharing of those findings with a participatory grower focus to ensure rapid learning for the industry,” Drost said.

Drost will discuss several major considerations in growing cut flowers during his session at the Great Lakes EXPO. Notably, Drost said flowers require a good understanding of plant physiology. To be successful, growers must know the unique needs of the crop and how to produce it efficiently. 

“Ideally, the grower needs a good market. Our Utah findings show that cut flowers are very valuable, relatively easy to grow, but if your marketing is poor, flowers become a very expensive crop,” Drost said.

Grafting with Matt Kleinhenz

Matt Kleinhenz

Matt Kleinhenz, professor and Extension specialist at Ohio State University, focuses on vegetable production systems including various research addressing challenges and opportunities growers face.

During his session at the Great Lakes EXPO, Kleinhenz will primarily focus on vegetable grafting and how growers can benefit from capitalizing on grafting as a propagator. 

My perspective will be based on more than a dozen years of research and Extension around vegetable grafting involving interaction with members of the industry, other research and Extension professionals,” Kleinhenz said. “My goal will be to integrate that input and experience into messages that session participants can use.”

According to Kleinhenz, there are many key benefits to grafting, the biggest being that growers will have plants that have root traits that would otherwise be unavailable to them.

“The importance of these root traits are what make grafted plants appealing in certain situations,” Kleinhenz said. “For example, the root traits help plants to resist or tolerate key disease, salinity, extreme temperatures or soil moistures, or a lack of soil fertility more effectively.”

While grafting has its advantages, there are also some risks growers should be aware of. According to Kleinhenz, the grafting process could spread disease from one plant to another because the process involves cutting and re-attaching plant parts from the scion and rootstock seedlings. Ultimately, growers need to develop proper management programs to gain the most benefits from grafting plants.

“First, do your homework. Take advantage of the quality information about grafting and grafted plants gained through research and experience,” Kleinhenz said. “Doing your homework will improve your success with the second step which is to either purchase or prepare your own grafted plants and experiment with them on your farm.”

Learn more about these sessions and others at The 2022 Great Lakes EXPO will be held Dec. 6-8 at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

— By Madi Jones, contributing writer

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