The 2019 Ohio Produce Network Program: Count on It

The upcoming Ohio Produce Network program ( sponsored by Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association will be held on January 16-17, 2019 at the Embassy Suites in Dublin, OH. Topics selected by growers during months of event preparation will be addressed in presentations, demonstrations and trainings, discussions, and displays and exhibits.

The program has five tracks and begins with the OPGMA Annual Meeting and Keynote Address. The Keynote Address will be given by Liliana Esposito, who serves as the Chief Communications Officer with Wendy’s. The entire program includes eleven hours and of presentation and discussion time across five tracks (55 hours total) plus five hours dedicated to viewing the tradeshow and various exhibits and participating in trainings and demonstrations.

Combined, the Vegetable, Food Safety, and Greenhouse/High Tunnel tracks also comprise interesting numbers. For example, they include twenty-nine speakers and at least that many topics. Of these twenty-nine speakers, thirteen are with a university (three institutions), five are farmers, eight represent farming-related businesses, two represent organizations, and one represents the ODA. These numbers are matched by equally impressive ones across the Fruit and Marketing tracks. However, for now, the most important numbers to remember are 5100 Upper Metro Place, Dublin, OH 43017 … the address of the OPN program and where we hope to see you on January 16 and 17!

Grower, Gardener, Educator, and Researcher – All can Gain from Vegetable Grafting

Grafting is an ancient technology currently coming of age, helping vegetable growers and gardeners and educators and researchers in Ohio and the U.S. address some of today’s most significant challenges. Find out more at two upcoming programs.

The Muck Crops School on January 10 in Willard, OH will include a presentation by grafting expert Dr. Richard Hassell of Clemson University. He will outline progress made in developing rootstock (RS) varieties resistant to Phytopthora capsici, a devastating disease of pepper, tomato, melon, and other major vegetable crops. In grafting, root systems of RS varieties are spliced to the shoots of scion varieties, creating physical hybrids that often out-perform ungrafted versions of the scion variety, especially under stressful conditions. Indeed, creating physical hybrids opens key opportunities in production, research, and education. Contact OSUE-Huron County ( about attending the Muck Crops School on Jan 10, 2019.

The Ohio Produce Network program on January 16-17 in Dublin, OH will include two sessions on grafting, both occurring on January 16. Session 1 will feature presentations and discussion led by six additional experts: Dr. Chris Gunter (NCSU), Dr. Matt Kleinhenz (The OSU), Dr. Sally Miller (The OSU), Cameron Way (Way Farms), Chuck Mohler (Sweet Corn Charlie Farms), and Ed Kerlikowske ( A representative of TriHishtil (, a major supplier of grafted plants, may also participate. Together, the six presenters and discussion leaders will provide a comprehensive, up-to-date, and stakeholder-focused summary of grafted plants as sources of income and production tools. Session 2, later on Jan 16, will deliver individualized training in making grafted plants, a straightforward process that can be completed in many settings. See about attending the OPN on Jan 16-17, 2019.

Contact Matt Kleinhenz (330.263.3810, for additional information about these programs and see and for more information about vegetable grafting.

Biodegradable Mulch: Your Next Production Tool?

Vegetable extension-research personnel from Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Iowa met on October 5, 2018 to discuss ongoing work and to plan follow-up activities … all toward helping improve short- and long-term farm success. Biodegradable mulch (BDM) was among the most talked-about topics. Dr. Annette Wszelaki of the Univ. of Tennessee led the BDM discussion and she provides comments for VegNet readers below. Also, note that Dr. Wszelaki will expand on these comments and summarize the large amount of research that her and other teams in various states have been doing with BDM, including on commercial farms, at the OPGMA-led Ohio Produce Network Meeting in Dublin, OH in January-2019. That presentation will be an excellent opportunity to gain a thorough update on BDM and its possible place in your toolbox.

Comments and Photos by Dr. Annette Wszelaki, Professor and Commercial Vegetable Extension Specialist, Univ. of Tennessee

Plastic mulches provide many advantages for vegetable production, such as weed and disease management, earliness of harvest, increased yield and quality, and moisture retention. However, plastic mulch use is not without disadvantages, including the cost, labor and environmental issues associated with plastic mulch disposal. Biodegradable mulches (BDMs) offer a potential alternative if they can provide similar advantages to plastic mulch without the disadvantages.

BDMs can look similar to traditional polyethylene mulch (i.e., stretchy and black or white-on-black) or in the form of paper (brown or black, sometimes with creping to give it stretch). They can be laid with a standard mulch layer. BDM’s are designed to cover the soil during the production season, and then begin to degrade as harvest nears. At the end of the season, BDM’s can be tilled directly into the soil. There they will degrade into carbon dioxide, water, and the bacteria and fungi that eat them. The degradation rate varies depending on environmental conditions, but by spring, most remnants will have disappeared.

At the University of Tennessee, we have been working with BDM’s on a variety of crops (tomatoes, pumpkins, and peppers) for 10 years. We have found comparable yields and quality to traditional plastic mulch with these crops, but not all biodegradable mulches and crop responses are equal!

Want to learn more about biodegradable mulches? Come to the session Could biodegradable mulches replace plastic in your production system? at the 2019 Ohio Produce Network in Dublin, January 16-17, 2019. In the meantime, please contact Annette Wszelaki ( or 865.974.8332) or visit for more information. Many thanks to Jenny Moore, Jeff Martin, the East TN Ag Research and Education Center Farm Crew, and many students along the way for their contributions to this project.

Figure 1. Creped paper biodegradable mulch just after field laying.

Figure 2. Stockpile of polyethylene plastic mulch on a Tennessee tomato farm.

Figure 3. Biodegradable plastic mulch in the newly planted pepper field.

Fruit Yield and Quality in a Strip-Till Tomato System as Influenced by Grafted Plants and Crop Biostimulants

Fruit yield in systems relying on tilled strips or some other form of reduced tillage tends to be lower and delayed compared to systems containing standard plastic-covered raised beds. Still, reduced tillage offers other benefits. If the productivity of reduced till (e.g., strip till) systems could be increased, their use and overall value may also increase.

We have experimented with various approaches to strip-till tomato and pepper production at the OARDC in Wooster consistently since 2014 and during previous years. Excellent work on the same topic has also been completed at other universities (e.g., Iowa State Univ., Michigan State Univ.). With support from the USDA SCRI and ORG programs, SARE, and industry, the current approach by the OSU VPSL is to ask if strip-till systems can be made more productive by including grafted plants and/or crop biostimulants; both may help address the ‘tight’ soils and other limitations associated with some strip-till experiences. At the same time, folks interested in grafted plants and/or crop biostimulants on their own merits — but questioning their returns on investment — may find that returns are beneficial if either technology helps make it more feasible to adopt reduced tillage approaches. The thirteen panels below outline the experiment underway at the OARDC in Wooster. Contact Matt Kleinhenz ( or 330.263.3810) for more information. Special thanks to Sonia Walker, Nicole Wright, Mark Spigos, Dana Hilfinger, the OARDC Farm Crew, Stephanie Short, and others for contributing to this effort.



Building a Shared Understanding of Soil Balancing

Everyone would welcome a holistic, reliable, and relatively straightforward way to enhance and maintain soil health on many farms, regardless of their size, product, management approach (conventional, organic) and other characteristics. Some farmers and consultants have long said that Soil Balancing (SB) is that way, a means to loosen and enliven soil, provide essential nutrients, limit weed problems, and enhance crop yield and quality. However, university researchers have largely been unable to support that overall claim or recommend Soil Balancing as the guiding philosophy when making soil, fertility, weed, and certain crop management decisions. With USDA support and the help of many growers, consultants, and others in the industry, an OSU team has been taking another look at the situation, possibly the most comprehensive, collaborative, and long-running evaluation to date.

As outlined in three previous VegNet articles and other references on SB, the philosophy calls for achieving an optimum ratio of calcium, magnesium, and potassium in the soil. This may require large amounts of limestone and/or gypsum and multiple years to “move the needle” on soil chemistry, physics, and biology (and their follow-on effects on weeds and crops) in a positive direction. Regardless, some see the payoff as significant. Importantly, evaluating the economics of Soil Balancing is one component of the OSU-led effort, which began in 2015 and is set to provide valuable new insights. Look for summaries in upcoming publications, programs, and other resources.

A Stakeholder Advisory Committee including farmers, consultants, and university professionals from Ohio and other states has guided the OSU team throughout its work, helping to design experiments and interpret and share findings. Committee members and others visited project research plots on farms near Wooster and at the OARDC and discussed project emerging project findings on August 9 and 10. In this picture, the group discusses the status of plots containing butternut squash, edamame soybean, and dwarf popcorn. For more information, see or or contact Matt Kleinhenz (330.263.3810;

Can Microbial Inoculants (Biostimulants) Enhance Vegetable Yield and/or Quality?

Currently, growers can choose from among nearly two-hundred microbe-containing crop biostimulants advertised to enhance yield and/or limit crop stress. That’s difficult. The production and sale of these products are largely unregulated (unlike biopesticides used in biocontrol). Also, research-based and grower-focused information on biostimulants is limited. People look for input and resources to help them select, use, and evaluate the efficacy of microbe-containing crop biostimulants when applied to field- or high-tunnel grown crops. Contact Matt Kleinhenz and watch for newsletter and other updates regarding various grower-university-product manufacturer efforts to provide that assistance.

Monitor and Predict Conditions during Production, Storage, and Transport

Vegetable growers rely on an increasing diversity and quality of information to succeed. This information includes what the temperature, humidity, and other conditions around their crops have been, are, and are likely to be in the near future. Of course, past, current, and future weather conditions are hugely important to all growers. However, conditions in confined spaces at any point during crop production, storage, or transport also influence the farm’s bottom line. This article has three sections. Section 1 highlights grower-friendly pieces of equipment making it easy to monitor and, in some cases, record important conditions in fields, high tunnels, storages, sheds, trailers, vehicles, containers, and other locations nearly anytime. Section 2 references an online source of past growing condition data for various locations in Ohio. Section 3 includes a link to a site offering local forecasts for nearly any location in Ohio and the U.S.

Monitoring. Personal “weather stations” are increasingly reliable, durable, widely available, and lower-cost. Stations are rarely moved and are commonly placed in or near production areas. Stations that fit nearly any budget and interest are available from ag/forestry and other equipment suppliers. Costs hinge on variables monitored (number, frequency), data storage capability, quality of instrumentation, extent and type of connectivity, and expectations for maintenance. Upper-tier stations track and record temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, and rainfall. Simpler systems that monitor temperature and send data by text are popular with some growers (especially ones using high tunnels during spring and fall), or others wanting to monitor conditions in storages, packing sheds, and other areas. Not surprisingly, applications for ultra-small, battery-powered, durable, portable, and relatively inexpensive sensor-datalogger units measuring about 1.5-inch square are also increasing. Growers, distributors, shippers, buyers, and retailers — everyone in vegetable supply chains — look to document conditions surrounding crops or shipments from field to delivery and through display. Crop production researchers have long-used sensor-datalogger units to record temperature and humidity in soils and air in many plots simultaneously. People focused on post-harvest topics, such as conditions affecting crop condition in storage and transit, have done the same. As unit prices drop and questions about crops increase, people in supply chains look to temperature, humidity, and other data for partial answers. Individual sensor-datalogger units take and record readings often (e.g., every five minutes) and store data collected over periods lasting weeks, if needed. Data are downloaded to a laptop or uploaded to a personal website and imported directly to a worksheet.

I am often asked to help determine the cause(s) for various crop defects, all of which have cost the grower real money. More and more of these cases involve defects discovered after harvest, e.g., after delivery or transport. Also, the situations can involve a disagreement between grower and employee, shipper, or buyer, etc. regarding where the problem began. In all cases, some reliable record of the temperature and humidity surrounding the crop from harvest through delivery (and storage on-site, if used) would have helped the diagnostic process. Obtaining those records is easier and less expensive each year. Also, three complex challenges may intensify peoples’ interest in crop monitoring on the farm and past the farm gate: 1) spray drift, 2) maximally effective application of crop protectants, perhaps especially fungicides, and 3) food safety. Regarding weather monitoring and forecasting, personalization of the process has helped fuel and related groups.

Past Weather/Growing Conditions. The OSU-OARDC manages a set of weather stations ( and daily or hourly data from the stations can be viewed/downloaded soon or long after they were recorded (e.g., Like all stations, the OARDC ones provide data specific to their location. So, the data should be used cautiously. Still, the stations provide numbers for important locations over many years.

Weather Forecasts. There is no shortage of weather forecasting services and apps and everyone has their favorite. I have come to appreciate being able to obtain current, multi-variable National Weather Service forecasts for nearly any location in the U.S. quickly and easily. The process outlined at requires only a minute and a few mouseclicks or taps on the screen of your mobile device but no downloads. I have bookmarked several locations and can see forecasts for them quickly.

That’s a Great Idea! Can I/We Test It?

Every season is an experiment of sorts for growers as they test the idea that the farm can come out on top despite natural, market, human (e.g., labor), and other challenges. Dealing with or reflecting on those challenges leads to questions before, during, and after the season. Questions often relate to inputs, practices, or other components of production and how they influence efficiency, profit, and/or the long-term health of the farm. Conducting an experiment is one way to address a question. Like farming, successful research relies on the best methods.

Now is when many on-farm studies are started and it’s never too soon to double-check objectives and methods. Many experienced investigators, including growers, consultants/advisors, and input suppliers are comfortable with their approach. However, very useful (and, often, free) resources are available to others with questions about on-farm research. As you consider approaches and resources you may use, keep in mind that all research involves comparisons but not all comparisons are done scientifically. Only accepted research methods provide the benefits of scientific comparisons. Non-scientific comparisons can be useful but in different, perhaps more limited ways.

Guides available at the links below explain key principles, and research practices proven to be successful. Many more resources, especially experienced farmer-investigators, are available. Examples in the guides below may not fit your operation perfectly, but messages in them are likely to fit.

Currently, we partner with vegetable growers in Ohio and seven other states in documenting effects of microbe-containing crop biostimulants on crops and farms. We are also part of a national network of investigators that work with growers and others to describe the performance of grafted plants under a wide range of conditions. And, we work with growers and university colleagues to develop a better, more common understanding of the Base Cation Saturation Ratio approach to soil management and its effects on crops, weeds, and farms. Contact me or check webpages (,, and for updates on those efforts. In each of them, from planning through sharing lessons learned, we try to follow procedures outlined in the guides below and other resources.

Graft, Roll, Crimp, Crush, and Strip: A Few of the Steps included in an Ongoing Study

Every production technology or technique has pros and cons. Occasionally, using two techniques or technologies simultaneously may offset their individual disadvantages and make it easier to use both. This is one idea behind our evaluating the combined use of reduced tillage and grafted vegetable plants. While both have clear benefits, their counterparts (conventional tillage featuring highly worked, often pulverized soil and standard single-variety transplants) are standard. Cost, timing, familiarity, and other obstacles have limited the use of reduced tillage and grafted plants.

In 2016, we completed an experiment in Wooster comparing the performance of grafted and standard tomato transplants in no-till and strip-till plots established in wheat seeded in Fall-2015. We reported three results in VegNet, at the OPGMA Growers Congress, and in a report to the OVSFRDP: 1) yields were higher in strip-till plots than in no-till ones, 2) grafted plants out-yielded ungrafted ones in both tillage systems, and 3) yield was greatest in strip-till plots containing grafted plants. We are repeating the experiment in 2017 to see if those trends hold under other conditions. Plants representing three rootstock-scion combinations were grafted three weeks ago and the ‘Hopewell’ wheat was rolled/crimped/crushed on May 17. Weather-permitting, on May 22, a PTO-driven rototiller will be used to create ten-inch wide strips of soil tilled to six inches deep in some areas and herbicide will be applied in a two-foot wide band centered on each strip. They and the no-till plots will be transplanted on May 23.

Rye, rye/vetch mixes, and other crops are better than wheat for no-till/reduced-till (including strip) vegetable production. We are using wheat partly because it may be one crop that growers can experiment with easily since it is abundant. We have used a PTO-driven rototiller (with outer tines removed) for a similar reason. True strip-till units are currently above our budget. Therefore, like growers, we experiment with equipment on hand. The goal has been to describe what happens when ‘alternative’ approaches are used and to improve our use of them. Input from growers continues to be very helpful in the process. Overall, given the documented benefits and challenges associated with using grafted plants and reduced-till approaches, using them together may be particularly useful. Look for updates on the study, stop by to visit, or contact Matt Kleinhenz ( or Zheng Wang ( for more information. The pictures below show the roller/crimper at work and the condition of the wheat at and after the process. Paper clips on wheat stems show locations of damage due to rolling/crimping.