Dec 1, 2015
Vegetable Growers News turns 50

Vegetable Growers News is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2016, and after looking through five decades of old issues, I am amazed at how much the industry has changed – and at the same time, how much has stayed the same.

While the varieties, crop protection tools and machinery used in vegetable production may have changed, growers are still dealing with layer on top of layer of government regulations; finding enough adequate, legal workers; increased costs of production; and being price takers in a market that demands higher-quality vegetables each year. Who would have thought we needed a law called “Right to Farm”?

They would have thrown me in the loony bin if I had written a column in the 1960s looking ahead to 2016 and predicting:

  • You would have to trace food from the plate all the way back to the field it was picked from.
  • There would be a contraption that “talks” to satellites in space and drives your tractor.
  • Growers would have to memorize an alphabet soup that includes GAP, HACCP, WPS and IPM – to name just a few.
  • People would be flying unmanned drones that could give a live video feed to help them scout fields.
  • The introduction of a robotic lettuce thinner that uses cameras to identify each lettuce seedling and sprays the unwanted plants to kill them.

Looking through 50 years of old issues was fun and enlightening, especially the old photos. There are some major events that have shaped our industry over the past five decades, and below is a list of some of the more important ones.

  • In the 1970s, United Farm Workers leader Cesar Chavez was trying to unionize farm workers; at its peak, UFW had 50,000 members.
  • In the late 1970s, the Carter administration cut all federal funding to farm mechanization projects because, “We will not put money into research where its major effect will be to replace an adequate and willing workforce with machines,” said Secretary of Agriculture Bob Bergland.
  • The 1996 Food Quality Protection Act passed and all crop protection products had to go through a re-registration process, which led to some lower uses and cancelations of products and started to limit the use of organophosphates.
  • In the early 1990s, EPA passed stricter Worker Protection Standards. This included stricter re-entry rules and the posting of warning signs around treated fields. This year, EPA updated those rules again, making them even stricter.
  • In the past 10 years, food safety has stolen the stage, with more focus being put on Good Agricultural Practices, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points and traceability.

After reading this, you may wonder how the vegetable industry has survived all of these challenges. Growing up in and around this industry, I can tell you my opinion: It’s because of the visionary leadership, strong organizations, research institutions, Extension programs and industry suppliers that have all worked together to come up with solutions. And in the end, no one will ever beat the work ethic and ingenuity of the American vegetable grower!

P.S. Each month for the next year, we will devote a few pages in each issue to look back on changes in the industry. If you have any photos or stories to tell, email or call us and we will be happy to include them in our special 50th anniversary pages.

 Matt McCallum, Publisher

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