TriEst Ag Group: Partners in Profitability

There is a lot of talk about sustainability and regeneration in agriculture these days. But what do those terms really mean? If you ask five people, you might get five different definitions. But for Josh Mays, Director of Agronomy for TriEst Ag Group, it all starts with profitability. Mays says “We should all be critical of how farming practices impact the ecosystems around the farm, but we can’t be sustainable without being profitable. There is nothing sustainable about the loss of farms in the United States due to financial instability.”

To put that statement into perspective there are only an estimated 1.89 million farms to feed 332 million people in the United States or 0.5%. According to Yahoo Finance, America has had an average loss of nearly 1.8 million acres of farmland per year since 2015.

He says profitability always has been important, but it is even more so today when there are so many factors that could take valuable farmland out of production. Challenges include competition from urban development, trouble sourcing labor, regulatory burdens, foreign competition impacting markets and the aging demographic of specialty crop growers.

“How do we keep our growers profitable? The economics need to be better for them to farm their land than to sell it for development or other uses,” Mays says. “Our intention at TriEst Ag Group is to help farmers keep farming.”

The company’s core customer base is in plasticulture specialty crops like strawberries, tomatoes and peppers. Other key customers include bare ground sweet potatoes, potatoes, snap beans, sweet corn, and vegetable crops.

Green Bean Field Trial in Florida


Mays says TriEst Ag Group helps growers key in on profitability by learning about their operations and finding ways that their products and services can be a benefit.

“We go very deep working with growers. That is what my job is all about,” he adds. “We take a step beyond just our products to discover what is the best approach to profitability for each farm. We work with growers to go over fertility programs, to consider variety selection, field selection and testing for what levels of pest problems they have in their soils. We holistically build a program that includes our products where they can help the grower but also are a part of a larger program.

“We are a spoke in the wheel. We want to better understand everything farmers have going on, so we can help them figure out the most economical solution to the challenges they face.”


TriEst Ag Group has a wide range of products and services that can help growers achieve profitability. The company specializes in soil fumigation, irrigation, crop nutrition, equipment, grafted plants, polytunnels, substrate and associated growing systems.

Soil fumigation with two key products, chloropicrin and 1,3-D (TELONE™), has been foundational in helping growers get their specialty crops off to strong, clean starts. Mays says these products have been studied extensively to maximize crop yield, quality and performance, especially since methyl bromide was phased out.

“These two products have been the subject of years of research and millions of dollars invested by universities and the private sector,” he says. “They are now the foundation of what we do to make up for the loss of methyl bromide. 1,3-D is effective in managing nematodes while chloropicrin manages soil-borne pathogens.

“We’ve seen advancements in plasticulture and tarps to create a better barrier that holds these products in the ground longer at higher concentrations. This allows us to consider rate reductions and achieve more efficacy. And it forced us to be more integrated and innovative in our approach to better manage pests. We’ve been successful in doing that through our collaboration with our grower customers.”


Mays says another area of intensive research has been maximizing soil health in fields. The study of the soil microbiome is a hot field now in all of agriculture.

“We are doing a lot of research on how our products interact with the soil microbial system,” Mays says. “We know we must manage nematodes and soil pathogens to produce a healthy crop. We are seeking the best ways to utilize our fumigants to provide the best suppression and have been studying how our fumigants alter the microbiome.”

The research has turned up encouraging results. The use of chloropicrin and 1,3-D has been shown to not ‘sterilize the soil’ as some have said.

“Science shows when you apply these products, you shift the microbial community. You get shifts of certain organisms, and there are others that take their place that are often beneficial organisms. We are learning now how to better utilize that shift. There is an entire new science emerging around the interaction of those microbes and our products, across a wide range of rates and new crops.”


The goal of TriEst Ag Group’s relationships with growers is to help them get more productivity and profitability from each acre of their crops.

“If we can learn new ways to innovate and create more yield on an acre and seek ways to be more efficient and reduce costs where we can, that is key to profitability,” Mays says. “If we were to take our core soil fumigants out of the equation, then you might see specialty crop yields drop by 30%. That will take 30% more acres of land to replace, and all the other inputs needed to grow the crop. That is not sustainable or profitable. We take great pride in working closely with our growers to bring them solutions that keeps that acre of farmland in farming.”


If you are interested in learning more about TriEst Ag Group’s products and services contact us today.

Part II: A Deeper Look into Grafted Watermelon Production and Management

Harvested Watermelons

In our last blog post we took a deeper look into grafted watermelon production and management by reviewing a 2020 watermelon trial in central North Carolina. In this post we want take you through year 2 results and our findings. The key focus points of the trial were increasing yields and maturity window of grafted plants using chloropicrin.

Trial details for background

  • The trial was on watermelons grown on plasticulture using TIF film since we found the best results the year prior with using that.
  • We made shank applied fumigant application using a Reddick Equipment Company RMC plastic layer 25 days prior to planting.
  • The grower had watermelons on this particular piece of land on a 3 year rotation with sweet corn, small grain, and tomatoes.
  • The land had heavy root knot nematode pressure and low fusarium wilt pressure so the Carolina Strong Back rootstock was used for the grafted watermelon plants.
  • The trial was planted on 8’ row centers x 3’ standard plant spacing (1,815 plants/acre) and 8’ row centers x 4’ grafted plant spacing (1,316 plants/acre).
  • We used 25% pollinators in-row between every 3rd and 4th seedless plant.

Harvest Events

  • The trial fields allowed for 3 harvest events.
    • June 30 (74 DAP)
    • July 12 (88 DAP)
    • July 26 (102 DAP)
  • The Joyride melon used is an 86 day melon.
  • The grafted maturity is the same as the standard Joyride plant maturity, but heavier yields were shifted 5-7 days.
  • We saw a strong yield response to the fumigant applications and vine health remained great all the way through final harvest on July 26th.

In summary, we saw results similar to our findings in 2020.

  • Chloropicrin is increasing yields in both non-grafted and grafted plant production systems
  • Fertility changes and addition of chloropicrin are speeding up grafted plant maturity
  • First harvest of grafted is approximately half of non-grafted, but the second harvest of grafted is much heavier
  • Longer harvest windows are possible with grafted plants, due to increased plant growth and durability to harvests
  • No significant differences were seen in size profiles or sugar content/brix between treatments

We saw comparable results in 4 different trials of similar design across North Carolina, Georgia and Florida in 2022. Some key findings:

Standard plant yields are increasing use of chloropicrin

  • North Carolina – 34% increase
    • Florida – 16% and 15% increase
    • Georgia – 20% increase

Grafted plant yields are increasing with the use of chloropicrin and specific fertility protocols

  • North Carolina – 22% increase
    • Florida – 12% and 23% increase
    • Georgia – 14% increase

Combining grafted plants and fumigation with chloropicrin is providing dramatic yield increases over grower standard practice yields in all trial areas

  • North Carolina – 70% increase
    • Florida – 28% and 44% increase
    • Georgia – 28% increase

To learn more please contact our very knowledgeable team at TriEst and be sure to sign up for the next installation of the TriEst Ag News series.

A Deeper Look into Grafted Watermelon Production and Management

In our last blog we went over the obstacles that growers face in watermelon production and their potential solutions. In this blog and video presentation we will take a deeper dive into why we recommend grafted plants and fumigation as potential solutions to obstacles in watermelon production.

Before we get into the first broad study trial we conducted, I would like to focus on grafted plants as a tool and potential solution to grower obstacles.

Some advantages in grafted plants and differences over standard are:

  • Improved root system, increased vigor, better plant and vine health.
  • Disease resistance. (Fusarium, all races)
  • Nematode resistance. (Rootstock dependent)
  • Reduced crop rotation due to better disease resistance.
  • Prolonged harvest potential and higher yield potential.

A common question about grafted plants is about which rootstock is best for a farm. Rootstocks that Tri-Hishtil offers are the Interspecific Hybrid Squash and the Carolina Strongback. The Interspecific Hybrid Squash is susceptible to Root Knot Nematode while the Carolina Strongback offers resistance.

In a trial we conducted in Central North Carolina we looked at solving some of the problems that growers faced by focusing on grafted plants versus standard, fumigated versus non-fumigated, and standard fertility versus reduced fertility.

At the end of this first trial, we learned that grafted plants with the Carolina Strong Back rootstock had significant yield responses over the standard plants, while also performing better than the squash-based rootstock. We also saw increased yields from fumigation regardless of plant type (grafted or standard) and regardless of plant spacing. Lastly, we discovered that reduced plant populations within 20-30% did not result in yield loss when using grafted plants.

Chart description of end field performance results of non-grafted, squash-root grafted, and Carolina Strong Back on different row spacing.

Lastly, we learned from this trial that early fertility reduction would control vine density and promote earlier flowering in grafted plants; however, fertility decreases after fruit set resulted in yield loss. This information has led to specific fertility programs for grafted plants that increase yields, decrease costs and result in earlier harvests.

The 4 beds marked R have Reduced Fertilizer. The 4 beds marked F have typical fertilizer program.

To learn more please contact our very knowledgeable team at TriEst and be sure to sign up for the next installation of this blog. We’ll be going over more trial data and results from the field!

Overcoming Obstacles in Watermelon Production

Sustainable crop production is a complex issue that every farmer faces each season. All crops present their own challenges and specific needs for maximizing yields and profitability. Let’s focus on discussing a few key impacts for watermelon production in the Southeastern US. The production issues for watermelon are not limited to those listed here by any means, but the following are the focal points of ongoing research that will be discussed over several blog installments in the coming months.

  • Soil borne pests – fusarium wilt, which can be devastating as crop rotations become limited and “new ground” isn’t an option
  • Nematodes – root knot nematode, a widespread issue across the Southeast US
  • Viruses – significant impacts on certain markets and very difficult to control
  • Crop rotation – ability to produce and market crops that aren’t a disease host for watermelon
  • Land availability – decreasing availability in almost all major melon production areas
  • Cultural production system – plasticulture vs bareground under many different styles of irrigation methods (drip, overhead, seep, flood etc)
  • Plant type and variety selection – Use of grafted plants for fusarium wilt control and/or use of tolerant varieties
  • Harvest windows – Watermelon markets are hyper sensitive to timely harvest events by geography. It is critical to understand how production system practices can impact these windows
Fumigated grafted plants (center) and grower standard plants (either side)
20 days after planting – fumigated melons on the left and non-fumigated on the right.

The task for every farmer is to find the balance between these challenges and potential control measures for each, while staying profitable. Solving this problem has to be taken one step at a time and our first step was to identify the products we had available to bring the farming community solutions to these problems. TriEst Ag Group and its affiliates are dedicated to providing soil solutions for the agricultural industry, so let’s take a look at the tools we’ve used to solve this puzzle in watermelon production.

  • Soil fumigation – TriEst has a variety of fumigants and product combinations that can be used for managing a wide range of soil borne pests and nematodes. In addition to managing pests, we have results to indicate that at low rates certain fumigates can be used to improve soil health and increase crop vigor in watermelon crop production. The right product is dependent on the specific pest and disease pressures of an individual farm. In our research we have used multiple products and we will discuss the pros and cons of each in this series.
  • Grafted plants – Like fumigants, there are several options for rootstocks available for grafted plants. Choosing a rootstock is also specific to the issues faced on an individual farm. The primary focus for grafted plants is fusarium wilt control and increased yields.
  • Cultural practices – There are many different cultural practices that are used in watermelon production. Each different scenario can impact the efficacy of fumigation, grafted plant performance, water availability and fertility. We focus on multiple cultural practices in our research, trying to find the best system possible and understanding how each changes the other products involved.
  • Fertility – Soil fertility and fertilizer use has a major influence on crop production. When looking at an overall system for control, fertility has to be considered. Fertility programs should change when they’re used with fumigation and grafted plants. The cultural system being used impacts timing and rates. Details on this will be outlined as we move forward in the series.

Over the past two years, with crops located all across the Southeast, we have worked to develop effective production systems using these tools. We will bring these results and concepts forward in this watermelon crop series, month to month. Next blog, we will take a deep dive into grafted plant production and the impact of fumigation in that system. Stay tuned!