(Jan. 13) SAVANNAH, Ga. — A record number of attendees descended upon historic Savannah Jan. 5-8 to hear updates on hurricanes, methyl bromide and other production issues at the 2006 Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference.

“This show has come a long way,” said Kevin Hendrix, vice president of Hendrix Produce Inc., Metter, who was re-elected to a second term as president of the La Grange-based Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, which co-sponsored the show.

The show this year drew 1,600 participants, up from last year’s 1,400, said Charles Hall, the association’s executive director.

“The type of attendance we had shows the industry is growing throughout the Southeast,” he said. “We’re now a major component of Southeastern agriculture.”

The industry conference, co-sponsored by the Georgia Peach Council, is attracting more industry vendors, said Joey Johnson, sales manager of Oconee River Produce Inc., Mount Vernon.

“It’s getting bigger and better every year,” he said.

In a weather seminar, Gerry Bell, the head of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s seasonal hurricane outlook climate prediction center in Camp Springs, Md., said a fundamental shift in the Atlantic Ocean’s wind pressure and ocean patterns have made for more active hurricane seasons.

Nine of the 11 most recent hurricane seasons have been more active than normal. The Southeast remains in the middle of an active 25-year hurricane era, he said.

Though normal temperatures and rainfall levels are expected for the Southeast, this year should be more prone to damaging freezes, said John Bellow, a Southeast Climate Consortium agriculture meteorologist and extension specialist with Florida State University’s Center for Ocean-Atmosphere Prediction Studies, Tallahassee.

“We’re looking at continued neutral conditions through the early summer,” he said. “That means highly variable winter weather patterns.”

METHYL BROMIDE

At sessions during the conference, growers heard how researchers were doing on finding methyl bromide alternatives.

Although agricultural use of methyl bromide is responsible for only a small part of ozone depletion, growers are not exempt from the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 treaty that reduces the soil fumigant’s usage, said Burleson Smith, director of pest management policy for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.

Stanley Culpepper, a weed specialist with University of Georgia, Tifton, said the search for alternatives continues.

Four years ago, scientists didn’t have a clue about chemicals that could control weeds, he said. After reviewing 30 possible fumigant combinations, researchers have narrowed their study to three fumigant alternatives, Culpepper said.

Recent research has shown the alternatives controlling 80% of fall weeds, something scientists hadn’t accomplished before, Culpepper said.

“We’re not saying we have an alternative (yet),” he said. “We still have a ton of work to do.”