March 31, 2000 | By: Aimee D. Heald

With the current tobacco situation, some growers are looking to vegetable production to turn demise into sustenance and profit. Brent Rowell, Extension vegetable specialist for the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture believes there are seven "habits" successful vegetable growers have in common.

"These are not really habits; they are prerequisites, or requirements for growing vegetables commercially," Rowell said. First, producers need to have sufficient TIME available for starting another very time-consuming farm enterprise. Rowell said they also need to figure in the time required for marketing a new crop.

Growers need appropriate LAND. Good vegetable producers need well-drained, tested soil with enough room for the crop rotations required for good disease control.

Sufficient WATER should be available for season-long drip irrigation. Possible sources to look at are creeks, rivers, ponds, wells, city water, etc.

As with any new venture, producers may need new equipment and additional supplies. Growers should make sure they have enough CAPITAL to invest in new or rented equipment, suuplies and labor.

Vegetables, like tobacco, are labor intensive, so it's important to have sufficient LABOR, either migrant or local, on hand. Rowell emphasized that the harvest is usually the biggest single expense for commercial vegetable growers. You can expect about 300 labor hours per acre, or many more, depending on the crop.

MANAGEMENT SKILLS are crucial to any farming venture to be a success.

"I usually say if a producer is very good at tobacco, he can probably become a good vegetable grower," Rowell said. "I'll make a point by asking them if they can produce at least 2,500 lbs. of tobacco per acre."

The last "habit" Rowell discussed was ACCESS TO MARKETS. He said this may be the most important factor in a successful vegetable operation. Rowell suggest starting with your market possibilities and working backwards to determine what you will grow and how you will grow it. Cooperatives can make a big difference for small vegetable producers in marketing their product.

"If small growers are going to get beyond a space at the farmer's markets, and they want to be in the wholesale business, they really need to be part of a co-op," Rowell added. "There are three active vegetable co-ops in Kentucky now and they've really helped small farmers participate in the national wholesale market."

Growers who are thinking about changing crops, or adding vegetables to their current enterprise can contact their local Extension office for more advice or information. Rowell said UK sponsors a commercial vegetable demonstration program that is in high demand, with 11 demos scheduled this year. Ask your Extension agent for information about demonstrations in your county.


Brent Rowell 606-257-3374