UNIVERSITY PARK, Pennsylvania — Penn State Extension is developing a program that offers educational booths at product auctions across the state. These kiosks provide producers with timely and relevant information on disease and pest identification and management, invasive species and food safety.
Beth Gugino, professor of plant pathology at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciencesand his colleagues in the Vegetables, Berries and Mushrooms Extension Team, guided the development and implementation of this program.
Pennsylvania has 16 wholesale commodity auction venues where growers can sell seasonal produce, flowers and other bulk goods to local grocery chains, farmers’ market stores and independent retailers.
This year, Penn State Extension will add three new booths to serve a total of 13 auctions across the state, including the Belleville Livestock Auction.
“In the past, buyers had to go from farm to farm to purchase large quantities of produce, primarily from Amish and Mennonite growers,” Gugino said. “With auctions, everything is in one place. They are an important market for producers who do not wholesale directly to large retailers. »
Auctions begin in the spring with bedding plants, and some continue to sell products such as pumpkins and Christmas trees through the winter months.
“A lot of our team members will go to these auctions because it’s a good point of contact to meet the growers and get a sense of the issues in that particular production region,” Gugino said.
Most of the producers are Amish and Mennonite, she explained.
“This community does not access technology in the same way as other growers with broadband access,” Gugino said, noting that the kiosks provide a way to disseminate current pest management information. and diseases.
“Amish and Mennonite communities play a major role in the vegetable growing industry across Pennsylvania,” she said. “Ensuring they have access to the same information as those using online resources is important to ensure they can continue to produce crops, not only to support their families, but also to continue supporting Pennsylvania’s agricultural industry.”
Initial funding for the project came from the Plant Health Resource Center, part of the Agricultural Resource Centers initiative between Penn State and the state Department of Agriculture. Penn State Extension continues to support the effort.
Glazed panels on the kiosks make it easy to display and update information. Information brochures are available for growers to take home. A few years ago, the team added lending libraries to some of the product auctions for producers to borrow paper-based assets.
Each year, the team designs five or six new posters based on problems encountered in the field. This year, new posters have emerged on cucurbit viruses, sweet corn rust, strawberry crown root diseases, high levels of soluble salt in high tunnel soils, the Law on Modernization of food safety and rotting of winter squash after harvest. Posters are designed to allow the team to update or reuse them as needed.
“Some topics are relevant for the entire season, while others are only problematic at certain times,” said Indiana County-based horticultural extension educator Bob Pollock. “We alternate posters depending on the topic and when it’s relevant.”
Another new feature is the bi-weekly “PA Produce Grower” newsletter that summarizes the issues extension educators face on farms and produce greenhouses across the state. The bulletin covers production issues related to insects, diseases and plant nutrition and consists of a sheet of paper with information printed on both sides. Each issue appears on different colored paper to help producers recognize a new edition.
Resources have been expanded this year to include more information on post-harvest and food safety considerations.
“Rather than focusing strictly on pests, we also include other production-related issues,” Gugino said.