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Consider growing a new crop in the off-season? Lettuce might be a good fit.

We are at the beginning of what I call “meeting season” — that time of the year when researchers, industry representatives, and Extension educators give updates on all things horticultural.

This is the time of year when you as a grower can attend these meetings as there are generally no field tasks such as watering or harvesting that need to be accomplished.

In Lancaster County, many local businesses will host a meeting for their customers that will both update you on the latest information as well as often provide update credits for your pesticide applicator’s license. These meetings offer the chance to visit with other growers and learn from them as well.

I encourage you to plan on attending one or more of these meetings to help improve your production and pest control strategies. If you have questions that you cannot answer regarding some aspect of crop management, then bring them to the “experts” at a grower meeting.

One meeting I especially recommend is the state horticulture meeting in Hershey, which will be held Jan. 31 through Feb. 2. If you have never attended this meeting, why not try it this year? There are multiple concurrent sessions, and each session is focused on a specific crop.

Whether you grow one type of vegetable/fruit or many, there will be researchers from across the country discussing the latest information on that crop, including pest management. To me, this is one of the best opportunities to hear the most current information from specialists working in the area.

I have heard comments that this meeting is “too technical” for some people. While some of the presentations are more in depth than a local meeting, experts say it is good for us to “stretch” a bit to learn something new. Often the speaker will be available after their talk for some one-on-one questions, which would give you the chance to have a point from their talk explained in more detail.

In addition to the presentations at the state meeting, there is also a great opportunity to interact with growers from not only across the state but also from several surrounding states.

I know that at these meetings a lot of growing information is “learned” over lunch as well as in hallway discussions. So if the talks are a bit technical, you still have the opportunity to learn from other growers who most likely will not be as hard to understand.

What Does 2023 Hold?

I recently saw an article in the newspaper describing how U.S. vegetable prices have increased nearly 40% because of water shortages in California and Arizona. I suspect that this will continue to be an issue for Western growers. In addition, transportation costs have been rising, which puts further pressure on vegetable and fruit prices.

What does that mean to us here on the East Coast? I suspect that the market for our produce will continue to be strong, particularly at the wholesale level. While there may be some room for growth at the retail level, our history of selling direct to consumers means that many people who would be interested in buying this way are already getting their produce from local growers. Off-season (winter) sales might be an area where there is a particular opportunity for production.

I encourage you to look at your growing operation and perhaps start to see if there is room for a new crop in the off-season. Greens such as lettuce need less light and lower temperatures than our traditional summer crops and might be a good fit on your farm.

Other salad crops that might fit include spinach, arugula, mustards, chard and beets. Some of these crops needed to be started in the fall, but you can still try some now to see if they might work on your farm.

As always, be sure to plan your marketing program for any new crops you might add to your operation.

Tim Elkner is a Penn State Extension horticulture educator based in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

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