The 2019 Vegetable & Specialty Crop (VSC) Expo, held in conjunction with the 28-year-old Citrus Expo, saw great success with the largest crowd in Expo history on Aug. 14–15 at the Lee Civic Center in North Fort Myers, Florida.
With more than 200 exhibitors and a stellar educational program, themed “Growing Stronger,” growers were able to meet with suppliers, mingle with industry leaders and get the latest research on making the most of their production systems.
The Expo featured a dynamic educational program, including a general session that addressed the topics of hemp, water and labor.
The VSC Expo seminar program included presentations by researchers from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Speakers covered pest and disease management, alternative crops, precision agriculture and more.
Moderated by UF Emeritus Extension Agent Gene McAvoy, the first day of the VSC seminar program included a presentation by Nick Dufault on battling fusarium wilt in watermelons. Dufault is an assistant professor and Extension specialist in the UF/IFAS Plant Pathology Department.
Fusarium wilt is a soilborne fungal disease that can severely impact watermelons at any point from seed to harvest. The disease has been a problem for many Florida producers since the early 1980s. Dufault has been studying the pathogen for five years and said he is still learning about it.
During his presentation, Dufault spoke about some new things that he and his team have discovered about the pathogen recently, including the effect temperature has on the development of the disease. “It doesn’t seem to grow in temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and of course the oscillation, the ups and downs, highs and lows of our temperatures is very important in that as well,” he explained. He added that fusarium is a cool-season pathogen, so growers should keep that in mind.
Another thing Dufault has learned in his research is the positive impacts grafting has on fusarium wilt. “Grafting does work; it provides near immunity to this pathogen,” he said.
Although grafting is showing great results, there is still more work to be done in learning about the rootstocks.
Day two of the VSC Expo seminar program included something for every grower. Topics explored included food safety, weed management, pest management and alternative crops.
Jose Chaparro, UF associate professor, discussed alternative crops in Florida and what growers need to consider before adopting such crops.
According to Chaparro, climate matching is key when considering new crops. It is important to consider the original growth hotspot of an alternative crop and determine if the intended planting site has a similar climate that will allow for the crop to be grown in the same ways.
Growers will want to make sure that “current trends in climate change won’t adversely affect the growth and development of a crop,” said Chaparro. Pest and pathogen investigation are also key when looking into alternative crops, he added.
Every year it is a team effort to put together Citrus Expo, and VSC Expo was no different. Special thanks go to Gene McAvoy for playing an instrumental role in organizing the VSC Expo seminar program. Also, without the support of the 2019 Expo sponsors and exhibitors, this event would not be possible.
The 2020 VSC Expo and Citrus Expo will take place Aug. 12–13 at the Lee Civic Center in North Fort Myers, Florida. Stay tuned for more reports from the 2019 VSC Expo educational program on VSCNews.com.
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