For vegetable growers, some crops can be more challenging to grow than others.

Onions and cucumbers are shown at the Toledo, Iowa, Farmers Market. Storage onions will be among the vegetables addressed at Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2019 conference. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2019 annual conference, Jan. 17-19 in Ames, will feature three sessions focused on specific crops — cauliflower, eggplant and storage onions — that present unique challenges to Iowa’s vegetable farmers.

These sessions are among a suite of offerings for horticulture farmers of all types spanning topics such as finances, farm labor, seed-saving, marketing, biodynamic production and more.

The conference will also include a pre-conference short course on orcharding, and a mix of speakers representing a range of farm sizes and enterprises.

Learn more about the conference from Practical Farmers of Iowa:

AMES, Iowa — When vegetable farmer T.D. Holub tried to grow cauliflower all summer long two years ago, to offer his customers a steady supply, he encountered a problem familiar to many Midwestern producers: the crop’s extreme sensitivity to climate conditions.

“The wrapping leaves would open and expose the head to excess heat,” says T.D., who raises vegetables, eggs and pastured broiler chickens with his wife, Sarah, on 10 acres at Garden Oasis Farm, near Coggon. “Coupled with above-average moisture and humidity that season, many heads would go bad in the field. I find that with our climate, growing cauliflower all summer is difficult.”

For that reason – and the challenge of battling the “multiple bugs that can get into cauliflower when the heads are getting large enough for sale” – T.D. opts to plant cauliflower in the spring, and again in the fall. “If planted at the right time,” T.D. says, “fall cauliflower can be some of the best things we grow on the farm.”

T.D. will share his experience with this finicky crop at Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2019 annual conference, “Cultivating Connections,” which will take place Jan. 17-19 at the Iowa State Center Scheman Building, on the Iowa State University campus in Ames.

His session is one of three focused on specific crops that present unique challenges to Iowa’s vegetable farmers:

·         In “Cauliflower Production,” T.D., along with Rebecca Graff and Tom Ruggieri of Fair Share Farm in Kearney, Missouri, will discuss how they have raised and stored cauliflower on their farms, along with their successes and ongoing challenges.

·         In “Eggplant Production,” Rebecca, Tom and Ajay Nair, horticulture professor and extension fruit and vegetable specialist at Iowa State University, will discuss growing, harvest and pest management methods.

·         In “Storage Onion Production,” Kate Edwards, of Wild Woods Farm, and Dan Fillius, produce safety specialist with ISU, will share their methods for dealing with this notoriously weedy and disease-prone crop.

Register on the PFI website, or contact Debra Boekholder at or (515) 232-5661. Those who pre-register by Jan. 10 will save $10 per day. Special rates are available for students and PFI members.

The conference will also feature:

·         Numerous other horticulture sessions, on topics ranging from finances and farm labor, to diversifying and managing multiple farm enterprises, to biodynamic production, and more.

Featured speakers will include Scott Thellman, who raises a mix of field crops and vegetables, including 50 acres of organic and conventional vegetables at Juniper Hill Farm in Kansas; and Nathan Corymb, a biodynamic farmer who is well known in the vegetable seed-saving community.

·         Two pre-conference short courses, including one on silvopasturing that will explore in-depth the growing practice of integrating trees, livestock and forages. Both the “Silvopasture” and “Orcharding” courses run Thursday, Jan. 17 from 1-6:30 p.m. and continue Friday, Jan. 18 from 8-11:30 a.m., at the Scheman Building.

·         A keynote address by farmer and author Michael Phillips, of Heartsong Farm Healing Herbs and Lost Nation Orchard in New Hampshire, who will help listeners understand the vital link between mycorrhizal fungi and crop health, and explain how this fungal network can help foster resilience in ecosystems.

·         Many opportunities to network and build relationships with other farmers, researchers, consumers and sponsors – including during the free breakfast served on Saturday morning.

For full details on conference sessions, speakers, vendors and lodging options – as well as a downloadable conference brochure – visit PFI’s annual conference webpage.

Practical Farmers of Iowa’s 2019 annual conference is supported by several major sponsors, including: Albert Lea Seed; Clarity Financial Planning; Clif Bar & Co.; Grain Millers; Hall Roberts’ Son, Inc.; Iowa State University Department of Agronomy and Graduate Program in Sustainable Agriculture; Natural Resources Defense Council; and Niman Ranch.

Practical Farmers of Iowa works to equip farmers to build resilient farms and communities. Our values include: welcoming everyone; farmers leading the exchange of experience and knowledge; curiosity, creativity, collaboration and community; resilient farms now and for future generations; and stewardship of land and resources. To learn more, visit