Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on April 28, 2005. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Growers get help staying current in tomato business
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Paul Myrick learned with tomatoes that a business must change with the times or lose its market.
Each year, Myrick has 500 to 700 plants in commercial field tomato production in Stringer. He and his wife have been in the business for about 12 years.
Several years ago, the Mississippi State University Extension Service helped Myrick and other growers get a grant and loan to build a tomato packing shed.
"We had a state-of-the-art packing shed designed to pack uniform tomatoes to ship to northern markets. The market changed, and consumers realized that the best home-grown tomatoes weren't perfect," Myrick said.
Myrick and fellow producers closed the packing shed after seven years but continued to produce tomatoes for markets closer to home.
"We're growing varieties for taste. Everyone is looking for varieties that are resistant to disease. Out of those, we try to choose the varieties that taste the best," he said.
The Extension Service helps them find those varieties and learn new methods to fight insects and disease. Training is offered locally, but some education requires travel.
For more than 10 years, Extension directors in Smith, Jasper and Newton counties have organized out-of-state tours of vegetable-growing areas for local producers. Tommy Bishop, Jasper County Extension director, said about 12 growers from the three counties go on these tours each year.
"The main reason is to keep our producers as up-to-date as possible on new technologies, and to let them see what is going on in other areas," Bishop said. "Our growers always pick up some new ideas that they can take home."
The tours visit commercial vegetable operations, research stations and research farms, and attend vegetable growers' meetings. The tours take them across much of the Southeast, and they have logged visits to Louisiana, Georgia, North Carolina, Arkansas and Florida.
"The producers we visit don't mind showing us their production practices. Most of our growers already have their own markets, so they're just looking to do a better job of production," Bishop said.
Charles Waldrup, Smith County Extension director, said this year the group is going in May to the Knoxville, Tenn., area to a research field day scheduled for them. The group also will visit commercial producers in the area.
"When these tours started, we wanted our producers to see some production areas outside the state and see research in other areas," Waldrup said. "We didn't intend for them to become an annual thing, but the growers put the pressure on us to go again because they learn so much from these trips."
Waldrup said Smith County has about 40 acres of field tomatoes. In addition to tomatoes, area growers also produce watermelons, cantaloupes, bell peppers and squash. Most sell at local markets, to area grocery stores and off the farm.