Old-fashioned practices, combined with modern innovations, make plenty of peppers
On just five acres, Scott Michael Smith, the president and owner of Pepper Lane Farms, is producing a plethora of peppers. "We're getting about two to three pounds per plant," said Smith, who said that his habanero peppers also have excellent flavor and heat. Additionally, Smith grows Hawaiian Sunrise Solo papayas, and Kona Sugar Loaf (white flesh) pineapples, which he is currently planting. Pineapple was first introduced to the state in the mid-1800s, and at one point, Florida was actually the world's largest exporter of pineapples. Smith's impressive pepper harvest is due to the fact that he is using a high density planting technique that increases the plant population per unit area in order to increase total production. This technique maximizes land and resources, increases yield and even ups quality. While high density planting may sound like a new technique, it's actually one that has been used and is being used in other parts of the world, and in some segments of American agriculture.It's also a technique that Smith became familiar with during the last decade or so, as he ventured to 13 countries, including Russia, Nepal, and Mongolia, where he provided agricultural, business and humanitarian consulting services. Smith's career began in the financial realm at Paine Webber Investments, where he worked as an advisor. He subsequently branched into working in international agriculture and business management consulting before landing in Sebring, an area that provides the perfect growing conditions for the types of crops he is planting. While overseas, Smith helped create an organic pesticide company in South Asia, a soy mill in Northern Iraq, and he provided hands-on management for a grain production operation for over 20,000 acres in the Ukraine. With Smith's background in both finance and agriculture, he considers his choices wisely, but isn't afraid to branch out and try new things. "Do your research first, but don't be afraid to do it differently," said Smith, as he discussed another old farming technique that he is using and was first used in the Ohio Valley in the mid to late 1800s. The technique is the use of a vermi-culture (worms) production. The worms produce manure from food waste that is then used as fertilizer, especially on the peppers. Worm manure, and the liquid produced from the daily watering of the worms, called "chealate," contains all the major and minor nutrients for plant development, and natural growth hormones for seed and root health. "Potato and grape producers have been using it for years," said Smith, who also said that because the manure is biologically active, it reduces nematode and fungal pressures. Smith's family roots include many past generations of Midwestern farmers. "My wife, Amy, and I, both have farmers in the family," said Smith, who moved to the area in 2012, as it was a perfect place to farm and also nearer his mother, Sharon. Smith's two sons, Samuel and Luke, will both attend Sebring High School this fall, where Smith is an assistant soccer coach. Amy has a background in biology, so no doubt that degree will come in handy as she, along with their sons, will all be working in various capacities on the farm this fall. Smith's sons have both expressed interest in agricultural careers. In fact, Samuel's school science project included an experiment with papaya. Many great companies have started small, including Geek Squad, Medtronic and Apple, and Smith does have the experience of helping to create and implement business incubators that have thrived by thinking big. Smith also likes to think big when it comes to what he expects from his harvest, as well as what he has plans for in the future. "I plan on the addition of more acreage as early as next year, the planting of other types of crops, and an investment in an Airstream greenhouse," said Smith. Smith currently sells his crops to buyers, canneries and processers, and with time, has plans to expand his markets. Smith's plans may happen sooner rather than later, especially if the peppers keep producing like they have been. Smith can be reached via email located on his website at: www.pepperlanefarms.com.