AMES, Iowa – As demand for local and organic produce rises, vegetable growers face the challenge of scaling up the size of their operations. A new online tool provides information to growers in the Upper Midwest about the methods and equipment available for transplant production.
The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture awarded a grant to the Iowa Organic Association in 2010 to compile the online tool. Chris Blanchard, organic farmer and consultant at Flying Rutabaga Works, visited nine organic and conventional operations of different sizes to interview growers about their transplant systems.
Producing transplants is one way for a farm to mitigate risk and extend the growing season. Transplants are germinated and grown in a controlled environment and then replanted in the field. The online tool provides information about options, challenges and costs for every step of this process, from choosing a growing tray to designing an irrigation system to ‘hardening’ the plants for field conditions.
“I’ve noticed that as vegetable growers scale up their production, they often move through several different transplant production systems—and the components of their old systems often aren’t compatible with their new systems,” Blanchard said. “I hope that this tool helps expanding produce growers in Iowa and other states to forecast the transplant system they want to end up with, so that they can make the appropriate investments.”
Amber Mba, executive director of the Iowa Organic Association, said the tool will help its members meet the needs of expanding markets for local foods. “We hope this tool will help their growing farms to be more productive and profitable,” she said.
The tool includes profiles of six vegetable farms in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, as well as photo galleries of infrastructure, equipment and crops. A one-page matrix summarizes the costs, skill level, benefits and drawbacks of various options for transplant equipment.
Blanchard has presented the tool to vegetable growers at several conferences including the Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, the Great Plains Growers Conference in St. Joseph, Missouri and the Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) conference in LaCrosse, Wisconsin.
The Transplant Production Decision Tool is on the Leopold Center website at: www.leopold.iastate.edu/cool_tools/transplant-production-decision-tool. It also can be found on the Iowa Organic Association website at: www.iowaorganic.org/transplant-decision-tool.
Chris Blanchard, Flying Rutabaga Works, email@example.com, (563) 735-5461
Amber Mba, Iowa Organic Association, firstname.lastname@example.org
Craig Chase, Leopold Center Marketing Initiative, (515) 294-1854, email@example.com
Laura Miller, Leopold Center Communications, (515) 294-5272, firstname.lastname@example.org