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Fruit and Vegetable Farming Strategies for Harvest Time

22 Apr 2024

Every harvest season, from Plant City, Florida, all the way to Yakima, Washington, farmers orchestrate a delicate dance to not only bring a bountiful harvest, but also a financially secure future.

In today's dynamic market, understanding current trends and forecasts, both economic and atmospheric, is paramount for fruit and vegetable farmers. Like in most other commodity markets, consumer preferences toward organic and locally sourced produce are creating opportunities for premium pricing and niche-markets. By aligning crop planning with market demand, everyone from strawberry farmers in Florida to apple farmers in Washington, can capitalize on the same trends to optimize yields and minimize preparation for the next season.

Seasoned farmers know that long-term success hinges on long-term investments in technology, soil health, crop diversity and climate resilience. Sustainable practices, such as cover cropping, crop rotation and integrated pest management have long been used to not only improve yield quality, but also enhance long-term soil fertility and reduce expensive input costs, like fertilizer and agrichemicals. Farmers who have engaged in strategic crop rotation, routine soil testing and proactive pest management over the seasons are well aware they are setting themselves up for the best kind of success: sustainable success.

Leveraging technology and data analytics has become a game changer in modern agriculture. Precision agriculture techniques enable farmers to optimize resource allocation, minimize waste, and maximize productivity with minimal investment. By harnessing the power of real-time data and the tools fast enough to evaluate it, farmers can make informed decisions that lead to better harvests with improved financial outcomes.

Another key strategy employed by savvy farmers is simple diversification. By cultivating a mix of in-demand crops, suited to local conditions, farmers can spread out liability and capture opportunities while diffusing risk across different market segments. This approach not only protects against market fluctuations but also actively promotes resilience in the face of changing climatic conditions.

Innovations Driving Fruit Farming 

Seems like everywhere you look there’s a drone, or a person talking about a drone, or a news report of a drone in war. Technology has long been a friend to farmers and as innovation moves forward at the speed of business, putting data, purpose and strategy behind every effort — both in and out of the field — nurtures a culture of success.

Precision Agriculture

Precision agriculture isn't just for angel investors and venture capitalists anymore, it's an evolving philosophy that tactically puts the farmer’s focus on the individual health of every plant, not just the entire crop.

According to Straits Research, the global precision farming business market was valued at about $5.5 billion in 2021. By 2030, they predict it will be close to $20 billion.

Companies like Green Growth, a start-up based in Delaware, provides farmers with real-time analytics on productivity that shows how much was harvested from any point in the field. This data is collected directly from existing harvesting machines and processed with proprietary algorithms, creating detailed yield maps that let farmers use real-time data to make decisions.

By deploying data-driven technologies, such as drones, sensors and GPS mapping to monitor crop health, integrated tactical irrigation and target pest management, farmers can get a real-time appraisal of their future-yield’s condition and progress. By precisely applying resources only where and when needed, farmers can reduce waste, improve yields and minimize environmental impact.

Smart Orchard Management Systems

Integrated smart systems are also gaining traction, especially among fruit farmers, offering real-time monitoring and control of various orchard parameters. These systems incorporate weather forecasts, soil moisture sensors and complex, automated irrigation to ensure and maintain optimal growing conditions. Farmers can remotely access and manage their orchards in real-time, saving resources while maximizing crop health and yield.

United Kingdom-based Small Robot Company uses robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) to help British farmers make their food production sustainable. The company’s three robots, Tom, Dick and Harry, monitor, treat and can even plant crops autonomously. Wilma, the company's AI advice engine, ingests billions of data points collected autonomously from Tom,and processes it for insights at a field-scale. While the thought of rouge robots roaming a blood orange grove may freak some farmers out, it’s already happening.

Biological Pest Control

With increasing concerns about chemical residues and pest resistance, farmers are turning to biological pest control methods. Beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and parasitic wasps, are deployed to naturally control pests like aphids and caterpillars. According to the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, between 25% and 50% of all global crops are lost to weeds (34%), pests (16%) and pathogens (14%). This sustainable approach reduces, and in many cases eliminates, reliance on synthetic pesticides, while it also promotes ecosystem balance and preserves the beneficial bugs.

Oxnard, California-based Symborg International specializes in supplying farmers with what they call BioControl. By developing bio-fungicides, herbicides and pesticides, they are providing fruit and vegetable farmers with economically viable and safe solutions to one of their biggest problems, waste.

Climate-Resilient Cultivars

In response to climate change challenges, breeders are developing new cultivars with enhanced resilience to extreme weather conditions with custom-made DNA that keeps pests and pathogens at bay. Currently, these climate-resilient and hearty varieties are bred for drought tolerance, disease resistance and adaptability to fluctuating temperatures. In fact, research done by the University of Chicago showed that the “widespread adoption of crops with 1-degree (or) greater heat tolerance” would easily save billions of dollars of production. By creating, then planting resilient cultivars, farmers can mitigate risks associated with climate variability and guarantee stable yields.

Davis, California-based GreenVenus is currently using the entire stack of technologies available to develop pea plants, in New Zealand, that are taste, smell and texture-specific, as well as climate, disease and pest resistant, at the genetic level.

 "GreenVenus's cutting-edge gene editing technology and gene-discovery tool, integrated with state-of-the-art machine learning approaches, are poised to accelerate the creation of next-generation cultivars,” the company’s CEO, Dr. Shiv Tiwari, said in a statement. “These cultivars are expected to swiftly adapt to climate fluctuations and showcase sought-after traits that align with the industry's requirements for clean, taste-neutral proteins."

Economic Factors Influencing Fruit Farming Success

While most fruit farmers have an immense amount of passion for what they do, not too many of them do it for free. As technology pushes our understanding and capabilities forward, it’s still about money at the end of the season, so understanding the unseen forces that impact your operation will not only help you sleep at night, it will also help you know what to do when trends suddenly change.

Sustainable Finance Initiatives

With growing emphasis on sustainability, financial institutions — thanks to government incentives — are offering specialized funding for sustainable farming practices. Loans and grants tailored for investments in renewable energy, water conservation and regenerative agriculture encourage farmers to adopt eco-friendly technologies and practices. Access to sustainable finance enables farmers to improve efficiency by upgrading infrastructure and is the only way to achieve long-term environmental and economic goals.

Climate resilience is becoming a top priority for fruit and vegetable farmers. They are doing their best to understand and forecast the climate and are using everything they can to help. Changing weather patterns and the increasing frequency of extreme events have long hampered any form of long-term sustainability. Investing in resilient crop varieties, water management infrastructure and climate-smart practices will help all farmers mitigate the impacts of climate change and ensure continuity of production.

Supply Chain Collaboration

Of course, it's not just about what happens in the field, it's about what and who you know up the food chain. Building partnerships with processors, distributors and retailers isn't just good business sense, it's a backstage pass to the biggest concert in town. The various direct-to-consumer channels available are like the new rock stars — they help put fresher, higher-quality food on customers’ tables faster, with less waste, and with far fewer middlemen.

In addition to on-farm strategies, building strong partnerships with supply chain stakeholders is essential. Collaborating with processors, distributors and retailers can unlock value-added opportunities and improve market access. Farmers' markets and community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs still play a vital role in enhancing market reach while also fostering a conduit for the cross-pollination of ideas and techniques. There still is no supplement for shaking hands.

Article written by Senior Writer Allen P. Roberts Jr.


Farmers Hot Line is part of the Catalyst Communications Network publication family.