Jan 13, 2015
Record turnout for SE Regional Fruit & Vegetable Conference

More than 3,200 members of the fruit and vegetable industry were in Savannah, Georgia Jan. 8-11 to attend the 2015 SE Regional Fruit & Vegetable Conference and Trade Show. The annual event saw an almost 7 percent increase in attendees from its 2014 meeting, which welcomed just over 3,000 people.

“We are really pleased with this growth,” Charles Hall, executive Director of the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association (GFVGA), said in a news release. “It means we are providing an educational event and networking venue that the industry finds valuable.”

The SE Regional Conference is coordinated and sponsored by the GFVGA and the South Carolina Peach Council and will celebrate its 15th anniversary in January 2016.

The conference offered 12 different commodity and production sessions totaling more than 70 hours of education. Session topics included specific commodities such as blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, organic production, muscadines, peaches, strawberries and vegetables, and also operation topics including business operations, food safety and roadside markets.

Beth Oleson, GFVGA Director of Education and Food Safety, said educational sessions were more popular than ever throughout the event. “Overall, I think attendees were more than pleased with the topics we covered and the expertise of the speakers,” she said.

Session speakers included subject specialists and top researchers from the University of Georgia, North Carolina State University, University of Florida and several others.

On Jan. 10, the SE Regional Conference held an awards breakfast to recognize local fruit and vegetable industry members who received honors in 2014.

The Mr. Peach Award, an annual award given by the Georgia and South Carolina Peach Councils to recognize outstanding work in the peach industry, was given to Larry Smith of Orangeburg, South Carolina.

The GFVGA also recognized the Donnie H. Morris Award for Excellence in Extension recipient, Phillip Brannen. The Donnie H. Morris award is selected by a committee of growers and based on GFVGA member nominations for extension agents in their area.

Also recognized:

• Philip Grimes, Docia Farms, for being named the Swisher Sweets Sunbelt Ag Expo Farmer of the Year.

• Drew and Shelly Echols, Jaemor Farms, for receiving the Georgia Farm Bureau Young Farmer Award.

• Jamie Brannen, Coggins Farms, for two years of service as the GFVGA president.

The program also featured Chatham County School Nutrition Director Lydia Martin, who talked about the need for salad bars in local schools. The GFVGA recently donated a salad bar to a Chatham County School through the United Fresh Produce Association’s “Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools” program.

To close the conference, Hall hosted a roundtable event open to all industry members. According to Hall, GFVGA will use comments and discussion from this roundtable meeting to form its 2015 association strategy and goals.

“This is a great venue for growers and industry members to tell the association and the conference what to work on in the coming year,” he said. “We came out of this meeting with a great list of topics to provide education on and advocate for in 2015.”

Hall said roundtable discussion centered on education for growers on federal regulations like the Food Safety Modernization Act, Whole Farm Insurance and various food safety guidance standards.

The 2016 SE Regional event will be held once again in Savannah, Jan. 7-10.

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