Held every two years, the New England Vegetable and Fruit Conference, at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester, New Hampshire garnered plenty of interest from attendees who traveled from the six-state region.

The three-day event—sponsored by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, New England Vegetable and Berry Growers Association, Massachusetts Fruit Growers Association and Cooperative Extension System—featured numerous sessions covering such topics as regional viticulture, organic production and winter growing.

In a session related to greenhouse tomato growing, Sandy Dietz of Whitewater Garden Farm in Altura, Minnesota explained her production process during the late months of the year. Dietz detailed many aspects of the farm’s progression such as preparing beds with compost, fertilizer and kelp.

“We do add compost and added fertilizers,” she told the large crowd about her pots. “We do some fertigating, but the fertilizers we use have a slow release. The plants seem happier that way.”

Whitewater Garden Farm began its greenhouse production in September this year and

Sandy Dietz of Whitewater Garden Farm in Altura, Minnesota explains her greenhouse tomato production process during her session at the New England Vegetable and Fruit Conference.

Sandy Dietz of Whitewater Garden Farm in Altura, Minnesota explains her greenhouse tomato production process during her session at the New England Vegetable and Fruit Conference.

expects a harvest in June 2016 with modest expectations of added revenue. Dietz said they plan to harvest tomato varieties like Rebelski, Favorita and customer-favorite Sun Peach.

The ever-changing regulations of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) proved to be a hot topic during the conference. Penn State Extension’s J. Craig Williams in his session, “Pros and Cons of UAV’s or Drones in Agriculture,” kept attendees up to date on the latest rule concerning the flying machines.

As of December 21, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Small Unmanned Aircraft System registry will be in place to allow owners to register their UAV. Registration is free for the first 30 days, but will cost $5 afterward. Owners purchasing prior to the December 21 date must register no later than February 19, 2016.

In his presentation, Williams briefed the audience on the basic guidelines when operating a UAV: flying below 400 feet, keeping the UAV in sight, plus public events and airport restrictions. Also, he offered suggestions when comparing UAVs for future purchase. “Price is no coloration to how fast you can crash,” Williams joked to the attendees.

Williams explained that choosing the right UAV depends on several factors in addition

J. Craig Williams from the Penn State University Extension holds a Phantom UAV during his session at the New England Vegetable and Fruit Conference in Manchester, New Hampshire.

J. Craig Williams from the Penn State University Extension holds a Phantom UAV during his session at the New England Vegetable and Fruit Conference in Manchester, New Hampshire.

to price, such as the size of the plot and the purpose of use. He also shed light on the choice of of UAV operator one would become, especially in the agricultural field.  The FAA uses three types of designations: hobbyists, public and civil/non-government.

Williams noted that the difference between a hobby and commercial use is a fine line for the farmer.

“(Using it for your farm) Technically, you would fall under ‘Civil: Private entrepreneur flying for your commercial farm,’” he said. “Unless you are purely flying for the enjoyment on your land and making no business decisions on your farm.”

Williams told the audience of growers that if they were using UAVs in a business pursuit, they would need to file a Section 333 form with the FAA.

According to the FAA, Section 333 requires UAV operators to stay in a visual line of sight and to stay away from an airport. Operators will also have to take to tests for visual accuracy and a sport pilot license along with having knowledge of air space regulation as well as training on the flying system.

“It sounding a lot better to me that the farmers would like to fly for their personal enjoyment,” he said to chuckles from the crowd. “I didn’t make the rules, I’m just explaining them.”

The New England conference also featured a series of Farmer-to-Farmer chat sessions where area growers spoke about best practices. The next conference is scheduled for 2017.