Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Red Gold Stewardship Award

 by Julie Harrold
Julie is a Resource Specialist Team Leader/CREP Leader in the north east part of Indiana. Julie's areas of Interest/Expertise include surveying; design of waterways, wetlands , structures, and working with landowners and SWCD’s. 

In 2009, the ISDA Division of Soil Conservation began working with Red Gold, Inc. to create a Conservation Stewardship Award Program for their tomato growers.   The program was established to showcase and recognize the conservation efforts taken by Red Gold Growers.  The goal of this award program is to highlight the current practices already undertaken by conservation minded-growers and to stimulate a proactive approach among all growers to evaluate their farm management practices and make improvements.
All Red Gold growers are eligible and encouraged to complete an initial application and all growers are provided an application form.  Once the initial applications are submitted, the applications are ranked based on the same criteria for every participant.  They are based on stewardship practices used to reduce soil erosion and improve soil and water quality, and practices used to reduce nutrient runoff and/or leaching and pesticide runoff and/or leaching.
At the end of May each year, the applications are due from all the growers who want to participate.  Then begins the process of reviewing and ranking those initial applications.  The top-ranking applications, typically the top 5, are chosen as finalists.  Each year in early July, I get the opportunity to visit 5 or 6 farms and visit with these producers that grow tomatoes for Red Gold.  I get to hear and see first-hand how they operate their farms and what good stewardship practices they are doing on their farms.  Through the past 5 years that ISDA has done this program with the growers, I have seen a lot of improvements in tillage practices, and in the use of more cover crops.  After I complete the farm visits, a ranking is done based on these visits and interviews. 
Tomato field

Chemical Storage Handling Facility

Filter Strip on ditch with tomato field in the background

Hay in cropping rotation
 In late July or early August, Red Gold has a field day for their growers followed by banquet serving a delicious pork chop dinner.  This year’s field day was held near Elwood, IN and featured several cover crop demonstration plots and some equipment demonstrations. 

Cover Crop plots at Field Day

At the field day, Barry Fisher from NRCS and Greg Downing from CISCO Seeds talked about cover crop benefits, types, termination, etc. and also showed soil pits in the cover crop plots.  Fred Whitford from Purdue did a presentation on tire and road safety for trucks and trailers, and insurance.  Ben Puehler from McDonnall Harvester did a presentation on tomato harvester equipment adjustments for improving tomato quality.

Barry Fisher speaking at Field Day

Fred Whitford talking to grower at Field Day

Following the field day, Red Gold holds an informal banquet to recognize the hard work of their growers and to talk about this years harvest and production.  The Stewardship Award is also presented at the banquet to the top two finalists.  First place receives a $1000 scholarship from Red Gold, a plaque, and one extra load of tomatoes per day during the harvest season, and second place receives a $500 scholarship from Red Gold and ½ extra load per day during harvest.  A Second Chance drawing is then held for the remaining Stewardship Award participants and includes a drawing for one extra load per day.  This year’s winners were both from Michigan.  First place went to Stanton Farms in Sherwood, Michigan and second place went to Iott Farms in Deerfield, Michigan.  
Way to go growers, and keep up the good work of being good stewards of our land!  Thank you to the growers and participants for your commitment to improve our soil, water and natural resources.

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