Score one for Mother Nature

Having traveled from south Georgia to the upper neck of Virginia in the past couple of weeks, it is evident the havoc wreaked by Mother Nature on Easter Saturday and Sunday will be hard felt by farmers — and consumers.

In general the farther South you go, the more damage you see. However, wheat farmers in the upper neck of Virginia would be hard-pressed to agree with that assessment, since 8-10 inches of wet snow devastated calf-high wheat there.

Growth stage, even variety in some cases, made the difference between little obvious damage from the record cold and total devastation. The big question is how much damage did the freeze have on those plants that appeared to have suffered only minor damage — will they come back and make a full crop?

In south Georgia and up to North Carolina spring vegetable crops were growing well, thanks to extended warm weather in March. When the Easter freeze hit, some of these plants were at their most vulnerable growth stage. The combination of plants killed outright by the cold weather and those left unmarketable creates a high toll on the vegetable industry in the Southeast.

Perhaps the hardest hit of all agricultural crops was the peach crop. In Monetta, S.C., long-time peach grower Mike DuBose says some of his peaches were frozen so solid it was impossible to cut through them to assess the damage on Easter morning. When his peaches thawed, virtually all those sampled had the tell-tale brown spot, signifying freeze damage. DuBose, along with the rest of the South Carolina peach growers will likely lose more than 90 percent of their crop this year.

Apples were at a similar stage of growth as peaches, though varieties are more spread out. Mollies and other early-maturing varieties had small apples on the tree when two nights of freezing weather hit the growing regions of North Carolina and Virginia. Time will tell how well the later maturing varieties survived the freeze, but it is a good bet a high percentage did not.

Few farmers escaped the freeze, primarily those planting cotton, peanuts, tobacco and soybeans. In general, the crops with the highest value in 2007 took the biggest hit from the Easter freeze.

Though wheat in the northern neck of Virginia was heavily damaged by the record cold and heavy wet snow, the middle peninsula and the southern part of the state appear to have escaped the brunt of damage on both corn and wheat.

In the middle peninsula, Randolph Aigner says his wheat crop appears to be unscathed, despite a couple inches of snow and 25-27 degree temperatures for two days. Further south in the state, Henry Goodrich says his corn plants were burned some by the freeze, but appear to be coming back. His wheat crop appears to have escaped damage.

In South Carolina, the combination of drought, followed by the Easter freeze appears to have devastated both wheat and corn. In Manning, S.C., Bill Simpson says it appears all of his 675 acres of wheat will be lost. In addition, he will have to replant much of his 1,000 acre corn crop.

Add to the losses in major crops, widespread losses in blueberries, strawberries, pecans, even turf, and the magnitude of Mother Nature’s wrath begins to take shape. While some of the damage has already been felt by farmers, local shortages of some crops will no doubt create high prices for consumers. And, the long-term affects of the freeze probably won’t be known until after all the 2007 crops are harvested.

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