(Jan. 14) SAVANNAH, Ga. — The weather may have been a bit bone-chilling, but it didn’t stop growers from 32 states from turning out in record numbers Jan. 9-11 for the 2004 Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center.

Charles Hall, executive director of the La Grange-based Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, which acted as the host organization for the event, said 1,288 people attended the convention.

“Our overall attendance was up 20% over a year ago, and the trade show was up, too,” Hall said.

The trade show, which featured 190 exhibitors, provided attendees an opportunity to talk with a variety of industry representatives, observe demonstrations and network with other growers.

The annual event was revived in 1996 and picked up strength four years ago when the Georgia fruit and vegetable group joined forces with the Georgia Peach Growers Association, .

New participants this year were the Georgia Pecan Growers Association and Georgia Organics Inc.

“I am excited that this meeting continues to grow and expand,” said Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association president Donnie Morris of Baxley Sunbelt Blueberry Corp., Baxley, Ga. “Over the years we have attracted more and more growers from other Southeastern states. I think we can safely say our conference is the largest education conference trade show in the Southeast focused on the fruit and vegetable industry.”

The convention featured two days of educational sessions for peach, vegetable, organic, Vidalia onion, watermelon, blueberry, muscadine, strawberry and pecan growers. There was also a series of workshops that focused on the Georgia Food Safety Good Agricultural Practices Program and a one-day session for operators of roadside markets.

The general session included addresses by Rep. Mac Collins, R-Ga.; Donnie Smith, chairman of the Georgia Advisory Commission on Agriculture; and David Stooksbury, a climatologist with the University of Georgia Coastal Plains Experiment Station in Tifton.