Wise words of advice from an experienced vegetable grower
Emil Belibasis from Beli Farms, one of the farmer speakers at the Mid-Florida Specialty Crops Conference.
By Lana Nasser
One of the speakers featured at the Mid-Florida Specialty Crops Conference on November 6 2015 was Emil Belibasis, owner of Beli Farms, a 5 acre hydroponic production farm in Wellborn, Florida.
We interviewed Belibasis right before the conference and he shared with us some great pieces of advice, especially for beginner or prospective farmers. Whether or not you attended the conference, read on for great farmer insights.
Starting from scratch, Emil decided to relinquish his position in healthcare and economics more than 20 years ago and pursued his interest in hydroponic tomatoes. Since making this switch in occupation, Belibasis has found that a love for growing, enjoying hard work and knowing one’s market is essential to any novice or prospective farmer.
“You really have to get into this business wanting to be a grower,” Belibasis said. Before he started the farm, Belibasis got lots of warning against growing food, that it was too much work for little reward. “If you are into this business dreaming about how much money you’ll make, and that is the driving force, it’s probably not the best way to get in it.”
According to Belibasis, there is no step-by-step recipe to assure success in the farming industry, but knowing how to match one’s resources to his or her market makes all the difference.
“If you have limited resources, you can’t go wholesale and you’ll have to find some other type of buyer that will work with what you have,” Belibasis said.
Harvesting a lot of produce at your farm doesn’t guarantee success either. “Sometimes farmers produce more vegetables than a market can handle, and they don’t end up doing well because of the market limit,” Belibasis said.
On the other hand, Belibasis warns against spending too much time trying to analize your market. “Get a sense of your market but don’t get too bogged down trying to understand everything related to the market initially because you wont. You have to have product to offer” Belibasis said. This farmers knows what’s he’s talking about, as he has able to market his produce successfully for 20 years. Over these years, he has maintained a fruitful relationship with a large retailer, from which he draws 70% of his revenues. The remaining 30% comes from small stores, buying clubs and CSAs.
According to Belibasis, another essential measure for novice farmers is to curtail costs.
“Somebody who is starting out not to get too far out with expenditures, get your feet wet,” Belibasis said. “Because particularly in the industry, a good chunck of it is infrastructure, capital, investment and you can sink a lot of money real quick without knowing about the payback, issues coming along years 2 through 15.”