APGA 2014 Winter Conference - Pre-Conference & Day 1

The Alaska Peony Growers Association (APGA) Winter Conference 2014 was held January 30, 31 and February 1 at the BP Conference Center in Anchorage, Alaska.

Meeting and networking with other peony growers from the state was a key function of the conference.  So was the opportunity to meet with vendors and speakers.  These activities alone make the conference worthwhile.  And then there were the presentations that I have summarized below.  I included contact information wherever possible if you want more information.  All the presenters were very approachable and offered to provide information via email so feel free to contact them.

Thursday - Pre-Conference Sessions

Financial Risk Management for Peony Farmers (Jeff Tranel and Rod Sharp of  Right Risk, LLC). This was a very informative session and maybe the most reassuring sessions of the conference. We did a complete risk assessment for a peony business.  Then we were able to simulate a drop in income and a rise in expenses.  Even with that drastic manipulation, there was still a very positive outcome, making me very comfortable with my decision to be a peony farm.  Right Risk, LLC will have that risk assessment program available online at after February 14th.  They also have a webinar Feb 20th, Managing Risk on Your Farm.  You can register on their web site.

Additional pre-conference activities were a New Growers School given by Mike Williams (Eagle Song Family Peony Farm) and the APGA Board of Directors Meeting.  Ron Illingworth, of North Pole Peonies, attended the Board Meeting and can answer questions you might have.   I did not attend the New Growers School.

Friday - Conference Day 1

This was the first full day.  The conference was completely full, as only 125 could be seated at the venue. Most presentations were limited to 40 minutes and there were no concurrent sessions. Round tables to meet with presenters were held Saturday only. However, most presenters were available during the conference breaks.

SESSIONS

Identifying and Developing International Agricultural Markets
WUSATA executive director Andy Anderson gave an informative presentation outlining the support WUSATA and USDA can give individual farmers and co-operatives. There are many services and matching funding available and their web site is very useful.

Growing Commercial Fresh Cut Flowers for the East Coast Market
Richard Currie of Styers Peonies gave a beautifully illustrated introduction to the process of growing peonies for the floral market. Styers Peonies uses farms in three states to provide a longer season of peonies for market. His clear explanation of the growing process was interesting and reassuring that we in Alaska are on the right track. This was the first of three presentations by Currie.

One Growers Approach to Organic Weed Control
Josh Volk of
 Slow Hand Farm gave a detailed description of organic weed control on his annual vegetable farm. His methods seemed effective for annual production and a few are transferrable to perennial peony growing on a small scale. This was one of two presentations he made at the conference.

Local Flower Markets and Opportunities
By Rachel Lord of Alaska StemsRachel is working to develop the Alaska market for fresh cut flowers. She is interested in bringing local peonies into the event planning spotlight. She grows and markets many different varieties of cut flowers and peonies are only a part of her market.

Harvesting and Production of Fresh Cut Peonies
This was the second presentation by Richard Currie (Styers Peonies), again well illustrated. This was a look at large scale harvesting of peonies. Great information on organizing and managing a large scale cutting operation from types of employees and their responsibilities, to equipment and facilities needed.

Using High Tunnels to Provide Peonies with a Longer Growing Season
Jan Hanscom (Polar Peonies, LLC) gave a presentation on her efforts to increase productivity and a longer growing season for her peonies by using high tunnels. The high tunnels were purchased with through a SAR Grant. Sadly, the tunnels did not provide a statistically verifiable advantage to the peonies.

Botrytis and other Pathogens in Alaska Peony Fields
From Washington State University,  
Dr. Gary Chastagnar reported on his research over the last two years identifying botrytis strains and viruses in Alaska Peony fields. This research continues and should lead to a better way of controlling botrytis in Alaska fields. Interestingly, an entirely new botrytis strain, currently unnamed, was discovered.

Teaming with Microbes for the Peony Grower
Jeff Lowenfels provided an entertaining, informative introduction to the role of microbes in plant fertility. The presentation was based on his book Teaming with Microbes that provides a layman’s introduction to the topic. This was one of two presentations by Lowenfels.

Alaska Peony Pest Surveys
The final presentation Friday was Todd Steinlage
and Mia Kirk of the Alaska Division of Agriculture outlining their research into insect pests in Alaska peony fields. They are isolated, possible problematic, insects that might impact the industry. If you are interested in participating as a research site, contact them.

That's all for the first day of the APGA Winter Conference. I'll be posting a recap on the second day tomorrow.