The 2019 Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference was Jan. 10-13 in Savannah, Ga. ( Randy Thompson

After a tough year for the southeastern produce industry with hurricanes, plant diseases and global retaliatory tariffs, more than 3,400 of those growers and packers started the new year afresh at the Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference in Savannah, Ga.
“After a year like we had in 2018, it is encouraging to see our growers come to Savannah and start their year with more education and more resources, ready to move forward,” Aries Haygood, president of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, said in a news release about the event, Jan. 10-13.
The conference ­— coordinated and sponsored by the Georgia association and the South Carolina Peach Council — offered 13 sessions on specific commodities, business operations, food safety, roadside markets and organic production.
Industry professionals use the conference as an opportunity to schedule other meetings, such as this year’s Produce Safety Alliance Grower Training Course and the North American Raspberry and Blackberry Association Annual Conference.  
The produce safety training course meets the Food Safety Modernization Act rule that requires at least one person from each farm to take a produce safety education course recognized by the Food and Drug Administration.
“Food safety continues to be a very overwhelming topic to growers, packers and shippers,” Beth Oleson, the Georgia association’s director of education and food safety, said in the release, adding that industry professionals have to handle requirements coming at them from three directions now: buyers, auditors and the FSMA. 
Other commodity session speakers included researchers from the University of Georgia, North Carolina State University and University of Florida. U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Ga., and Agriculture commissioners Gary Black from Georgia and Hugh Weathers from South Carolina also attended. 
At the annual awards breakfast, awards included:
Mr. Peach Award — Joe Watson of Jerrold A. Watson & Sons;
Donnie H. Morris Award for Excellence in Extension — Timothy Coolong, UGA associate professor of horticulture; and Elliot O. Grosvenor Food Safety Award — Natalie Adan, food safety division director at the Georgia Department of Agriculture.