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Grafting has been used for thousands of years to propagate and improve tree crops.   For vegetable crops this technique is relatively new. Use of grafting for disease management in vegetable production was first introduced about 90 years ago in watermelon to help manage fusarium wilt, said Dr. Xin Zhao, an Associate Professor at the Horticultural Sciences Department of the University of Florida. Vegetable grafting has been used extensively in Asian countries such as China, Japan, and South Korea; primarily employed to help manage soilborne diseases in intensive cultivation systems.

Interest in vegetable grafting is growing in the U.S. in recent years as more farmers are now looking for management alternatives to soil fumigation and integrated approaches for soil-borne disease management. There is also interest from organic growers who have limited disease management tools and from growers using heirloom or specialty cultivars that lack a good disease resistance package. Dr. Zhao has carried out research on vegetable grafting since 2008; specifically on tomatoes, melons, and watermelons. Grafting can be used for other vegetable species, but due to its cost it has mainly been used in high-value solanaceous and cucurbit crops.

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Grafted watermelon plants

Potential Benefits

The main benefit sought by grafting is to assist with managing soil-borne diseases. For example, fusarium wilt, fusarium crown and root rot, verticillium wilt, southern blight, bacterial wilt, and root-knot nematodes can be effectively controlled by using grafted plants with resistant/tolerant rootstocks in tomato production.  In her research, Dr. Zhao has seen significant yield differences between grafted and non-grafted plants where disease pressure is high. In watermelons for example, grafting has been shown to successfully control fusarium wilt. In other experiments, grafting helped heirloom tomatoes overcome root-knot nematode infestation and reduced yield loss to fusarium wilt in production of specialty tomato cultivars.

In addition to helping with soil-borne disease management, many rootstocks have shown advantages for improving plan growth and enhancing nutrient and water uptake. Grafted plants with selected rootstocks have been demonstrated to better handle abiotic stress conditions such as cold and flooding.  Research has shown that grafted tomatoes can produce over 25% higher yield than non-grafted tomatoes in field production even under low disease pressure.  Dr. Zhao’s research also showed improved nitrogen fertilizer use efficiency and irrigation water use efficiency by using grafted plants with selected rootstocks in tomato production.

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Grafting Is Considered a Management Tool

“Don’t see grafting as a silver bullet; it needs to be integrated into your production system.” said Dr. Zhao. For example, using resistant cultivars, crop rotation, cover crops, organic amendment, and other cultural practices and physical and biological approaches can help manage diseases in addition to chemical means.  Grafting is not perfect, there’s not a “super-rootstock,” she said. The onsite disease problem need to be clearly identified in order to choose the appropriate rootstocks with the targeted disease resistance package for effective management of the disease.   In general, grafting is used for controlling soil-borne diseases and has little influence on foliar diseases, and therefore scion cultivars with good foliar disease resistance package need to be combined with resistant rootstocks to optimize the performance of grafted plants.  Dr. Zhao pointed out the importance of using grafting as an integrative tool for solving site-specific production issues, “You need to know what your objective is when using grafting to make it beneficial to your production operation.”

The Process of Grafting

We focus a lot on the physical grafting process, but the healing process is just as critical, said Dr. Zhao. Grafting means that the plants have just had undergone wounding and need the appropriate conditions to recover. In the period of 7-10 days following grafting, you need to carefully provide the proper conditions for healing of seedlings, i.e., making vascular collections between scion and rootstock plants. Relatively high humidity and low light are generally needed for the first 3-4 days after grafting to minimize water loss from plants.  The environmental conditions can then be adjusted during graft healing to gradually expose grafted seedlings to normal growing conditions, Dr. Zhao said.

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Tomato plants healing

The Cost of Grafting

“It all comes down to whether or not this makes economic sense for the growers.” If you have a small farm that produces transplants onsite you are in the best position to do grafting on your own, and that would reduce your costs, said Dr. Zhao.  The price of grafted transplants can be 3-4 times higher than the price of non-grafted transplants. This price can go up depending on the rootstock you are using, the size of the transplants, and other variables. Several seed companies in the U.S. now carry rootstock seeds and some of them also sell grafted transplants. Some nurseries in Canada have been supplying large quantities of grafted vegetable transplants to growers in the U.S., while more nurseries in the U.S. are recently getting into the grafting business including the newly established Tri-Hishtil in NC.    Currently, Dr. Zhao is exploring the feasibility of increasing plant spacing to reduce grafted transplant costs while maintaining and improving fruit yield. She is also working with economists to seek solutions to provide assistance to growers with decision making for optimizing economic returns in grafted vegetable production.


Interested? Learn More

Once you identify the diseases that you want to target, then you have to look for rootstock that will match what you are looking for. Research-based information on the preparation, use, evaluation, and purchase of grafted vegetable plants can be found at: http://vegetablegrafting.org. This vegetable grafting website came out of a multi-institutional project on vegetable grafting funded by the USDA Specialty Crop Research Initiative that Dr. Zhao is involved in.

Dr. Zhao is going to provide a hands-on demonstration on how to graft tomato plants  at the Panhandle Fruit & Vegetable Conference on October 11 in Marianna, Florida. You will be able to do your own transplant grafting under her guidance. “You can do this on your own and also get good at it but it requires practice,” she said.

To register and find out more information about the conference visit: https://pfvc.eventbrite.com. Early bird registration is $40 and ends September 5.


Dr. Zhao’s vegetable grafting research has been possible thanks to the support of University of Florida IFAS Research Innovation Grant, USDA- Specialty Crop Research Initiative and Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE), and Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services – Specialty Crop Block Grant Programs.


Photo Credit: Xin Zhao

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“Dr. A”

Dr. Ayanava Majumdar is an Extension Entomologist for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System at Auburn University. His work focuses on finding practical solutions for managing insect pests that affect peanut and vegetable crops. “Dr. A,” as he is commonly known, has developed a very strong relationship with growers across Alabama. In recent years, he has gotten a lot of requests from high tunnel growers who are growing vegetables using sustainable agricultural practices. He is an expert in the field of alternative pest management tactics with emphasis on trap crops, pest exclusion, and organic insecticides.

“Protected agriculture has grown in the state for various reasons, especially due to the increasing consumer demand for local foods. Consumers are more aware and want to know who grew the food they consume,” Dr. A said.   Growers are using high tunnels to extend the season during lean times and supply local food to consumers year-round. High tunnels help farmers take advantage of two specific periods. During winters, these structures allow farmers to plant crops earlier than normal and during hot and humid summers, when pests and diseases thrive, they are able to produce crops by regulating temperatures and the amount of rain entering the system.

Protected structures however, are not exempt from pest problems. “Pest management in high tunnels can be challenging because the diseases and insects take advantage of the growing conditions inside the tunnels,” Dr A said. For example, problems with spider mites and leaffooted bugs have exploded. “These pests really love the heat and the close proximity of plants inside a tunnel. They are very good at exploring their environment and causing rapid crop loss. ” he said.

The High Tunnel Exclusion System

Dr. A is pioneering the use of high tunnel pest exclusion systems (HTPE) as a permanent or long-term solution to pest problems. High tunnels are not usually completely closed systems, as the sidewalls and sometimes the ends are open or movable for ventilation purposes. The HTPE technique basically consists on placing a 30-50% shadecloth on these sidewalls under the roll up plastic and at the ends to exclude large insects while allowing beneficial insects to pass through and provides adequate ventilation. This means that the shadecloth material covers about 25% to 33% of the whole structure. The shadecloth is relatively inexpensive and its cost compares well with some expensive organic insecticides. It’s very important to install the shadecloth correctly and seal tightly, otherwise it will not be effective.

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Dr. A. said that he has seen dramatic reductions in numbers of leaffooted bugs, armyworm moth and other important insect pests as a result of installing an exclusion system. This technique will not exclude all the insects but the pest pressure overall decreases. “We are currently researching this system in six farms located across the state and this technique has dramatically improved the quality of the crops”, Dr. A said. “We are learning with farmers and have seen that farmers can easily recover the costs within the first season, especially with high value crops such as lettuce or tomatoes,” he said. Dr. A is a believer that his farmer partners are key to validate and spread the technology with other farmers. “After seeing this system work, farmers won’t go back to open high tunnels,” he said. On the other hand, “if farmers don’t like it, they can easily take off the shade cloth and use it elsewhere”.  Dr. A’s research findings are available in the form of videos and publications on the Alabama Vegetable IPM website.

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Dr. A is looking at providing solutions for organic and alternative systems. “Customers are asking what the farmers are spraying. The growers have to be more responsible since they are talking to very aware customers.” As a result, he has seen small farmers spending a lot of money using insecticides approved for organic production.  The exclusion technology will help, but it’s not a silver bullet. Dr. A is currently studying the release of beneficial insects in these systems. “Pest prevention is the goal in organic systems. Once the pest is there, there are very few tools you can use,” he said.

Learn from Dr. A

Dr. A. will be a speaker at the Panhandle Fruit and Vegetable Conference on October 11 in Marianna, FL. He will teach two different Integrated Pest Management (IPM) workshops. The first one will be focused on open field conventional vegetable production. The second workshop will focus on organic alternative IPM systems using the Pest Exclusion system. During the event, he will be providing free copies of the High Tunnel Crop Production Manual for New and Beginning Farmers and the Alternative Vegetable IPM Slide Chart and insect scouting guides. Don’t miss the talks!


Pandhandle SFC2To register and find out more information about the conference visit: https://pfvc.eventbrite.com. Early bird registration is $40 and ends September 5. Your registration includes breakfast, lunch, refreshments, educational materials and transportation to farm tour locations. The event is sponsored by UF/IFAS Extension and support in part by a Florida Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant.

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By Katie Cardenas

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Katie Cardenas

My name is Katie Cardenas and I am an agricultural education and communications major at the University of Florida. I am working as an intern for the UF/IFAS Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Program helping to create a beginning farmer and rancher program.  Most of my time is spent in Gainesville collecting information on already existing beginning farmer programs around the country as well as getting farmers’ input. However, I recently went on a field trip to shadow Mary Beth Henry from UF/IFAS Polk County Extension to learn more about the diversity of Extension programs and visit farmers in the region.

I visited Mary Beth on Friday and Saturday during June 2016 and my two days there were spent constantly on the go. Mary Beth began my trip by introducing me to several Extension agents around the office and asked them to tell me what they do so that I could get a better understanding of Extension. After listening to all of the Extension agents talk to me about their focus and the tasks they do, I really began to realize how broad Extension really is. It supports the life of Florida residents in so many ways, from helping all types of farmers to educating the general public.

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Gary Farmer from Fiddlers Ridge Farm & Winery in Lake Wales

We had planned to help out at a harvesting program that provides produce for food banks, however due to a thunderstorm that week, all the Southern High Bush blueberries were gone. Luckily for me, the alternative was meeting farmers in Polk County.

First, I met Cindy and Gary of Fiddlers Ridge Farm & Winery at their store in Lake Wales. Cindy and Gary are married and produce fruit and make blueberry, honey, and peach wine. This was my fist time behind the scenes of a winery and it was really interesting! Cindy explained to me how they make their wine and told me it takes two and half pounds of blueberries to create one bottle of wine, which was a lot more than I expected. I guess due to the fact that I hadn’t put much thought about the process behind wine. Even though I already respect and appreciate farmers, I really enjoy going to see and talk to them so that I can get a better understanding about what they do and help educate people about farming when I get the chance.

Our next stop was dinner where we shared a meal with Retta Baucom, the farm manager at Shady Oaks Farm in Lakeland. Retta was celebrating her birthday and provided us with dinner. Everything was homemade and off the farm.

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Retta Baucom from Shady Oaks Farm in Lakeland

Needless to say, it was delicious. Mary Beth showed me around after dinner teaching me about the different fruits and vegetables that we saw. Shady Oaks primarily grows commercial blueberries for sale at grocery stores, but also sells berries for U-pick. They had a large garden and grew a little bit of everything for their own pleasure. It was really great to see the relationship between Mary Beth and Retta. They were more than just work friends: they are genuinely close friends. It showed me the importance of good relationships in Extension. The more a farmer trusts the people in Extension the more they can talk to them and find out what they could do to help.

Mary Beth took me to the Brew Hub before heading back to the hotel room. The Brew Hub is a brewing company that allows microbrewers to scale up and distribute their own unique beer nationally and internationally. They also offer assistance in sales, marketing, and logistics. They keep the atmosphere that most local breweries have, along with selling beer from different breweries around the United States. I would recommend anyone traveling through Lakeland to stop by this great operation.

Saturday morning, Mary Beth took me to talk to Fatima Gill at True Blue Winery in Davenport. Fatima explained her business to me and how it started as only a winery. After adding two years under her belt, she added a bistro. She runs the business with her husband, Howard. I was so impressed! Personally, the idea of having a winery and a bistro on the same property is brilliant. I love that guests literally see the farm before walking into the bistro. It was clear that she is extremely passionate about what she does and that made our whole conversation very enjoyable. She described the obstacles that she has had to deal with over the years that go along with being involved in these two extremely difficult industries. Despite these obstacles, she still manages to keep a smile on her face at all times and loves what she does.

All this talk and excitement about growing vegetables, fruits, and plants throughout the trip, made me realize just how clueless I am in the horticultural area. Most of my experience in agriculture has to do with livestock but, after going on this trip and working in the horticulture building all summer, I’ve really realized how beneficial it would be for me to learn more about horticulture. As a result, I signed up for a vegetable gardening class in the fall.


Check out the farms and businesses Katie visited in Polk County:

Satsumas Return to North Florida

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Tour a Satsuma Grove on October 11.

There was a time when citrus production was booming in North Florida. In the 1920’s, Jackson County, Florida, was known as the satsuma capital of the world. Satsuma is a citrus variety with excellent eating quality that is cold heady and matures early. Back then, there were about 3,000 acres of satsumas growing in the region, and the town of Marianna organized yearly satsuma festivals. That all changed in 1935 when hard freezes devastated the industry by killing the trees. The satsumas did not come back, and producers turned to other crops for income.

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Mack Glass

Satsumas were missing from the North Florida landscape until farmer-pioneer Mack Glass became interested in this crop as a way to diversify his farm. Federal payments for agronomic crops started to slide in the 1990’s and the time was right to look for alternative crops. In 1999, Mack attended an agricultural summit where the take-away message was, you either become a mega farm or you pursue niche production. “I decided to pursue a niche product,” said Mack, who decided to plant 6 acres of satsuma mandarins in the year 2002 with the help of UF/IFAS staff. Along with two other farmer friends, they formed the Cherokee Citrus Cooperative. Mack estimates that there are now about 30 acres of satsumas growing in the region.

Innovative Freeze Protection

Freezing temperatures destroyed the industry in the 1930’s and according to Mack, it continues to be the major threat to the industry. However, one of the main factors that convinced him to give satsumas a try was a micro irrigation technology that could help the trees withstand the hard freezes in North Florida. The freeze protection system works because heat is released when water turns into ice. The heat protects the tree and allows it to survive.

In January 2003, a year after he had planted the satsuma trees, his grove passed its biggest test to date. The temperature was 15 degrees, but thanks to the micro emitters he only lost one tree. “Some years we haven’t used the frost protection irrigation at all, like last year. On the other hand, there was a year where we had to use it three days straight,” he said.

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Mack’s satsuma grove

Interest in Growing Satsumas Is Increasing

There are a few more growers planting satsumas in the region, which is encouraging said Mack. “The more growers we have, the better.” Mack is not shy about sharing his experiences with others and encouraging them to plant satsumas.” I think the acreage of satsumas will continue to grow in the future, he said. Besides the threat of freezes, problems with labor availability is an important factor that makes many growers think twice about planting satsumas.

Citrus greening has not been a concern in this part of the state, and Mack reported that no disease had been detected. The low winter temperatures in the region help break the lifecycle of the Asian citrus psyllid, the vector that transmits citrus greening.

Satsumas for Lunch

Mack visiting Santa Rosa County Schools

There was no market for satsumas, but Mack and his fellow farmers have worked hard to put satsumas in the region’s school lunch menus. “I introduced Mr. Glass to Santa Rosa County’s Sodexo manager and they are now serving his satsumas for the county’s schools,” said Christina Walmer, a Food Systems Coordinator for the Farm to School, Farm to Community FNP-UF/IFAS Program. “We did whatever was needed to serve this market. We got insurance, food safety certification, and worked with Fresh From Florida to make this happen, we are fortunate” said Mack.  “Even when satsumas are part of the school lunches for only November and December, they have become the favorite item for many children” Mack often goes to schools and shares with students the history of satsumas and how this locally grown fruit is coming back. Some fruit is also sold at church fundraising events.

Mack was one of the first producers in Jackson County to become GAP (good agricultural practice) trained in food safety. Mack has now built a USDA approved citrus packing facility and he is hoping to join forces with more growers in the future.

Visit Mack’s Satsuma Grove on October 11

The Panhandle Fruit & Vegetable Conference is scheduled for October 11, 2016 in Marianna, FL. The event will give participants the chance to tour Mack’s grove through an afternoon farm tour. By that date, everyone will be able to see fruit beginning to color out. Mack will lead a tour of his grove showing various aspects of his operation, including how the freeze protection works.  The conference will also offer a Protected Agriculture tour, practical workshops, conference sessions, and a trade show. A highlight of the event will be farmer and author Richard Wiswall as the Conference Keynote Speaker.

For more information and registration visit: https://pfvc.eventbrite.com. Early bird registration is $40 before September 6. Your registration includes breakfast, lunch, refreshments, educational materials and transportation to farm tour locations. The event is sponsored by UF/IFAS Extension and support in part by a Florida Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop Block Grant. We look forward to seeing you there!

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Richard Wiswall

Richard Wiswall

Richard Wiswall has been a farmer for 35 years. He runs Cate Farm, a certified organic farm in Vermont  and is author of “The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook.”  Richard’s experience as a farmer is sure to resonate with all farmers who strive to manage their farm profitably. We are pleased to announce that Richard will be the keynote speaker at the Panhandle Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Marianna, Florida, on October 11, 2016.

Richard’s 148-acre farm includes 25 different types of crops on 22 acres of cultivated land and seven 96-ft long greenhouses. When he started he owned only 5% of the land he farmed, and he decided to take a dive into the reality of his business. He had to overcome the fear that many small, diversified farmers have: Is my farm profitable or am I losing money here? First, he realized he needed to collect some data from his operation to understand how profitable it was. Later, during the off-season, he sat down and looked at the numbers for three days. The hard work paid off! He realized that there were some crops that were very profitable and he was losing money on others. After this realization, he decided to reduce the number of crops grown from 42 to 25 the following year. He focused on the most profitable crops, he finally saw how his farm could be profitable and viable in the long term. This gave him the confidence to go to a bank and ask for a loan to buy the land he farmed. He has been fine tuning his production strategy every year, and has observed consistent improvements.

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Richard in one of his greenhouses

In this process, Richard found that crops with high demand such as spinach, broccoli and sweet corn were not profitable at his farm. On the other hand, there were “sleeper crops,” such as kale, that were earning more money per acre than standard vegetable crops. Richard said this was the reality for his farm, but it would be different for other farms.  “For those crops that are not profitable you can either drop them or you can still grow them even when you are losing money, as long as you are aware of it. You can look at this as a promotional expense,” he said.

Richard realizes that looking at the business side of things is hard for many farmers who chose this profession to be outside working with nature. He decided to write a book to share his experiences with other farmers, and that’s how “The Organic Farmer’s Business Handbook” got published. Richard regularly speaks on this topic at conferences and events across the country. “It’s about shining a light on their farm business, about understanding where the money is coming and going,” he said. “After that it is up to them to make decisions. It’s better to do it with your eyes open than with your head stuck in the sand.”

Tomatoes growing in one of Cate Farm greenhouses

Richard has seen many farmers work 80 hours a week, pay their workers little, and not get ahead. “They will never say this is what I want to do the rest of my life. They leave farming all together, they burn up”. To be truly sustainable you have to have a manageable, balanced life. Ultimately a farmer’s only job is to make sure that the farm survives; if you can’t make payroll then it’s over.” he said.

Applying Richard’s methods to analyze your farm requires some dedication.  As a first step, he recommends to analyzing your five top crops. “I don’t like recordkeeping”, Richard says, “I do it because it has worked. The only thing you have to do is to calculate rate checks. How much time it takes to plant a bed, weeding, and the like, you don’t have to track every time”. Richard recommends looking into Phone apps such as BeetClock http://www.beetclock.com/  to use your smartphone to facilitate recordkeeping.

Besides the keynote speech, Richards will also lead a 2-hour workshop in the afternoon of the conference. In this workshop titled “Determine Your Costs of Production: Farm Budgets Made Simple,” he will work on demystifying this process for you. “You will learn to do this anytime you want. We’ll spend two hours simplifying this process and the hope is that farmers will embrace and practice this in their operations,” he said.

To learn more about Richard Wiswall and Cate Farm visit www.richardwiswall.com and www.catefarm.com.


The Panhandle Fruit and Vegetable Conference will provide a great networking space and share practical farming knowledge that can help farmers across the region. The event will take place on October 11 at the Jackson County Agricultural Complex in Marianna, Florida.

For more information and registration visit: https://pfvc.eventbrite.com

Early bird registration is $40 before September 6. Your registration includes lunch, refreshments, educational materials and transportation to farm tour locations. We look forward to seeing you there!