August 4, 2004 | By: Laura Skillman
NEBO, Ky.

Shawn and David Brumfield check their tomatoes.

David and Shawn Brumfield are busy picking and transporting a mixture of produce from the Hopkins County farm to various markets in the region.

The father-son team, have grown vegetables for a number of years but did not use raised beds with plastic mulch and drip irrigation until cooperating with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture on a demonstration plot in 2003.

“We demonstrated how this production method could result in increased yields and higher profits,” said Shane Bogle, UK Extension associate for vegetable and fruit production, who assisted the Brumfield’s with the plot.

After participating in the demonstration plots, the Brumfields partnered with a neighboring grower to buy the equipment needed to install the raised beds, plasticulture and irrigation.

They have about six acres on plastic this year, Shawn Brumfield said.

“It’s really night and day difference,” he said. “In years past we had an old plastic layer that laid the plastic directly on the ground and did not have any irrigation to it. It got to be more trouble than it was worth. With the raised beds and irrigation, it is a really good way to go. There are not much equipment costs upfront and the plastic and irrigation tape is relatively inexpensive.”

Shawn’s father David Brumfield said the family has dabbled in vegetable production for many years utilizing the farmers’ market, but only in the past couple of years has expanded.

“That gave us a good customer base,” he said. “Any of these things, they are niche markets and you’ve got to have a customer base.”

The Brumfields grow three types of sweet corn along with bell peppers, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, hot peppers, cantaloupes and watermelons. In addition to having a mixture of produce, they also use a mix of marketing options. They sell through the West Kentucky Growers Cooperative, Fairview Auction Market, local farmers’ market, wholesale to local groceries and even from their front door.

The Brumfield’s also grow sod, tobacco and a little grain.

David Brumfield said tobacco is fading out and it’s going to have to have a replacement, but there won’t be a single crop to do that. It will take niche markets and in every community it will be a little different, he said.

Vegetable crops are viable alternatives but commercial vegetable production is unfamiliar to most farmers in Kentucky, said Brent Rowell, Extension vegetable specialist.

“We’ve learned that the only effective way to help new growers is to just start them by working with them for an entire season, showing them how to grow the crop week by week, out in their own fields,” he said. “We’ve been doing that since 1988.”

Until 2002, that effort was a small program operated by Dave Spalding. But thanks to financial support for the Kentucky Agricultural Development Board, UK has hired additional staff enabling it to expand on-farm demonstration plots.

David Brumfield said the demonstration plots and the close working relationship with UK has been very helpful.

“It’s helped us learn a lot more on the farm,” he said. “It’s been a big benefit. It has shown others in the area and increased awareness and interest.”

For first time growers, it is very important, Brumfield said.

Since 2002, 50 on-farm demonstrations with new growers have been conducted along with 55 field days attended by more than 1,000 people.

“We believe this program, combined with new marketing efforts and cooperative development, are having an impact,” Rowell said. “The latest agricultural census reports that the number of farms growing commercial vegetables rose by 31 percent from 1997 to 2002 and that the acreage of commercial vegetables harvested increased by a whopping 53 percent.”

While the total acreage is still small, it is growing at a rapid pace and signifies greater changes to come in Kentucky agriculture, he said.

To learn more about this program contact the local office of the UK Cooperative Extension Service.

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Contact: 

Writer: Laura Skillman 270-365-7541 ext. 278
Source: Shane Bogle, 270-365-7541 ext. 262; Brent Rowell, 859-257-3374