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Red Gold field day augments tomato growers’ techniques




Indiana Correspondent


ELWOOD, Ind. — Mike Schulte, a farmer from Pandora, Ohio, is always eager to learn new and better techniques to grow his tomatoes – and he learns from other producers at the annual Red Gold Grower Field Day in Elwood, Ind. "We learn from other growers what works and what doesn’t," Schulte said of Schulte Produce, which grows corn, beans, wheat, tomatoes and other fresh vegetables on 1,100 acres. "We are trying new things next year, like different fertility schemes."

Surrounded by 50 of his peers and their families from Indiana, Ohio and Michigan, Schulte’s interest in improvement was rewarded last week when he won the Stewardship and Conservation Award from the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, along with a $1,000 scholarship. Schulte grows 350 acres of tomatoes and 125 acres of Red Gold-contracted tomatoes, he said, but he plans to expand that production. "I’m trying to grow more into tomatoes because they are less labor intensive than other fresh vegetables," he added.

Schulte told Farm World a little about his conservation efforts on the family farm, which has been growing for Red Gold since 2001. He uses a four-year crop rotation; no-till on beans and wheat; and plants cover crops behind tomatoes, wheat and most of his vegetables. He grows greenhouse tomatoes, fruits and vegetables for a supplier.

"My dad used cover crops 20 years ago before it was cool," said Schulte, who was excited and surprised to be recognized. He still farms with his dad, Tom, and his brother, Todd Schulte.

He thinks the no-till approach also improves the soil.

"It’s much better till in the ground. The soil is loose, richer, and drains better," Schulte said.

Second place went to Nate Gage, of McKillip Farms, a 3,600-acre farm in Wabash County. He plants 300 acres of Red Gold-contracted tomatoes.

This was Gage’s second time earning second place, and he promised to try again for the top spot next year. Gage earned a $500 scholarship for his efforts.

Late harvest


One of the field day topics was the increased need to plan around the anticipated late harvest this year.

Schulte said he will start harvesting on Aug. 17, a week later than normal. "The cold spring and cool summer were nice for working outside, but not good to grow tomatoes in," Schulte said.

Steve Smith, director of agriculture at Red Gold, said that in prior years the processors would be pulling double shifts by this time to handle the volume of tomatoes. However, given the weather’s variability, this was a good year to introduce the double sorter, which sorts the red fruit from off-color tomatoes with a higher degree of precision and efficiency.

Smith said that half of Red Gold’s farmers are using the double sorter this year, most for the first time, which will enable them to start harvesting sooner.

Allen Williams of Howell Farms in Middletown, Ind., said he likes to see the newest technology and enjoyed learning about the double sorter.

Growers saw field presentations of the Precision Drone, spray ingredient measurement, and new color technologies and double color sorts.

In other news, Red Gold invested in new equipment in order to improve and to address the needs of their customers, such as Kroger, Marsh and Target.

Among many other purchases, Red Gold bought equipment that would provide high-speed production for smaller-sized bottles. "Our customers desire more diversity and packaging, sizes and flavors that are unique to them," said Beau Reichart, senior manager of continuous improvement at Red Gold. Red Gold also purchased a sugar silo to process sucrose in order to cater to clients who want products made without high fructose corn syrup. "The company continues to reinvest in itself, which is one of our keys to success," Smith said.

Smith also explained that many of Red Gold’s competitors are located in California, which has a longer growing season. "We’ve got some of the best soil in the country for growing tomatoes," said Don Sansone, director of the supply chain at Red Gold.