The PVGA Board of Directors held their summer meeting virtually on July 20th and approved a special grant for $16,000 for a second moveable research high tunnel at Penn State. The summer meeting has been held by telephone conference call or more recently by Zoom for many years simply because the directors are not able to get away for an in-person meeting at this time of year.
While the bulk of the meeting consisted of reports from the various committees, the Board voted unanimously to give $16,000 to Penn State University for the construction of a second moveable research high tunnel at the Horticulture Farm at Rock Springs. This is in support of research work being undertaken by Dr. Francesco Di Gioia who is working on several areas of high tunnel production issues. The Association had given $12,000 toward a similar moveable research high tunnel two years ago but Dr. Di Gioia’s expected research needs beginning this fall will require two of the tunnels. Rimol Greenhouses, which supplied the first high tunnel and potentially will be supplying the second high tunnel offered a very generous discount on material in both cases that made construction of the high tunnels possible. In addition to Rimol’s discount and PVGA support, the College of Agricultural Sciences and the Department of Plant Science are also helping to fund the purchase and construction of the high tunnel.
Penn State has 24 small, identical research high tunnels (17’ x 36’) constructed for the research of Dr. Michael Orzolek and Dr. William Lamont, both whom are retired, over 20 years ago. However, these high tunnels have different soil conditions in each because different experiments have been conducted in them over the years. The older high tunnels were used by Kathy Demchak in recent years for a large multi-state trial of high tunnel berry production. There the smaller, identical high tunnels were very useful because it allowed different plastic coverings to be compared and the berries were grown in containers so soil conditions were not a factor.
The new moveable high tunnels are 30’ x 96’ are more representative of the size tunnels that growers use. They also allow multiple experimental treatments to be compared in the same environmental conditions within the larger tunnel in the same soil conditions. The ability to move the tunnel on a rail system from year to year will allow the soil to be exposed to natural weather conditions when it is not covered by the tunnel, thus providing similar growing conditions for future experiments. The new moveable high tunnels will also have fully automated ventilation systems to maintain more constant environmental conditions which is especially important for experimental work. They will also have supplemental heat to prevent the loss of an experiment on an unusually cold night.
PVGA is committed to supporting vegetable and small fruit research and the Directors felt this was an important investment that needed to be made quickly to allow Dr. Di Gioia’s research to proceed on schedule. Naturally, however, they also considered the fact that the Association’s income this year is anticipated to only be about a third of its normal amount. They agreed to this grant on the understanding that the Association’s vegetable research budget for 2022 would be adjusted downward to reflect this special grant in 2021. The Association’s practice of maintaining a large reserve has enabled the Association to carry on nearly all of its activities and functions this year and to make this grant.
The Directors received reports on the plans for a normal in-person Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention on February 1 to 3, 2022. Pre-convention workshops are set for January 31. In addition, an in-person Farm Show is being planned although the Association’s booth will be relocated. The Farm Show is reconfiguring the Food Court as well as making other changes like widening the aisleways to help reduce crowding at the Farm Show. Otherwise, unless pandemic conditions change, there are no other restrictions being anticipated for the Farm Show.
The Succession Planning Committee reported that they are continuing their work to plan for finding a new Executive Director on the retirement of William Troxell expected in late 2023. A draft job description has been developed. The Committee is recommending having a new person on board for a training period of up to a year. The Committee is also exploring the possibility of working with several other organizations for a joint staffing arrangement.
The Strategic Planning Committee reported that the Internal Revenue Service had responded to the Association’s application to become a 501(c)3 charitable organization requesting some further information, which is being prepared. The Committee is considering a fundraising effort to allow the Association to fund additional research, establish a new farmer mentorship program and organize a series of on-farm educational meetings. They asked the Board to approve retaining a consultant to train the Committee and Board on fundraising. The Board decided to take some additional time to consider this proposal.
The Berry Committee reported that their weekly Zoom grower meetings on Monday nights were appreciated by those that attended them – but relatively few growers participated. For the rest of the season, the calls will only be held on the third Monday nights of July, August and September. The Zoom link is https://us02web.zoom.us/j/83077021881 The call-in numbers are 929 436 2866 or 301 715 8592. The meeting ID is 830 7702 1881. Be aware that calling in by telephone is not toll-free. The PVGA Berry Growers Facebook group has been well received with over 35 members.
It was reported that Glen Bupp had started as a Penn State Extension educator based in Butler County with vegetable and small fruit responsibilities on June 1 and Dr. Karly Regan will begin on September 1 and be based in Cumberland County. A verbal commitment has been received for the Columbia -County-based vegetable and fruit position with the candidate tentatively beginning on October 18.
The next meeting of the Board of Directors will be Tuesday, December 7, in State College.