Southeast fruits vegetables fall crops heavy rainfall

THIS SEASON was largely a bust for Raleigh, N.C., farmer Roger Ball, whose main crop is strawberries.

Southeast fruit, vegetable growers hoping fall crops help them bounce back

• Southern farmers learned this year, if they didn't know already, that some fruits and vegetables do better in periods of heavy rain than others.

It has been way too wet in the Carolinas this season, but on the bright side, the water situation looks good for fall fruits and vegetables... as long as it doesn’t start raining again.

“Our soil moisture is good,” said James Sharp of Fresh-Pik Farms, a fruit and vegetable operation in Kenly, N.C. “I am sure we have a good high water table.”

He was looking forward to a good season for his fall crops. Fall collards were one crop that appeared in position to finish strong, he said. 

“We plant collards in the spring,” he said when he spoke to Southeast Farm Press on Sept. 10. “But then around Sept. 1, we planted some additional acres. The small collard transplants are coming up now.”

He might have collards to harvest as late as Christmas, and that's good because the demand is there.

“It is one of the markets that is expanding,” he said. “It is considered a health food, like any of the greens, and I think we can sell plenty more this year.”

He also planted fall mustard and fall romaine, which he planned to start harvesting Oct. 1.

In South Carolina, collards and turnips were just beginning to arrive on the Florence market, and more were still in the field. “They could benefit from all the rain,” said Tre Coleman,manager of the S.C. state farmers market at Florence. “There is plenty of soil moisture, so neither crop should be stressed.”

Southern farmers learned this year, if they didn't know already, that some fruits and vegetables do better in periods of heavy rain than others.

Cabbage, lettuce did well

“Our spring cabbage loved the rainfall, and spring lettuce also did well,” said Sharp. “But there was a lot of damage on our melons. Watermelons and rainfall don't seem to go together.”


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His watermelon harvest was nearly complete in early September.

Ronnie Best, manager at the North Carolina State Farmers Market in Raleigh, said in September he too expects a good fall for fruits and vegetables.

“Demand has been good, and also attendance has been good,” he said. “It may be a little less than last year, but that was a year of record attendance.”

Production was another matter, he said. “I can't say it was a bad year, but it was not a good one. In some cases, the quality was down because of the weather.”

Like Sharp, Best noted there was a wide variation in the impact the rainy season had on different fruits and vegetables.

Peaches were definitely affected by the weather. “The crop was not as good as normal, and some varieties came up short,” said Best. “Some peach growers just quit. But there is one last variety that reaches the market around Oct. 1, and we have hopes for it. We call it the 'Fair time' peach, since it comes to market about the time of the state fair.”

There were a lot of apples in early September at the Raleigh Farmers Market, and Best said farmers would start harvesting sweet potatoes soon. “We still have some peas and butterbeans and still a lot of greens.”

Coleman said the rain shortened the season to the point some farmers had to abandon or destroy their second crop, if they had one, because it was completely gone, though many of them got a good first crop.

The shelf life on the produce that made it to the market this season wasn't as long as normal because of the water stress.

Like tropical environment

“It has been a one in a million year,” Coleman said. “We had some record amounts of rain, especially in lower South Carolina. In many areas, we have well surpassed a full year's rain, and we have four months left in the year. It has been more like a tropical environment.”

In early September, Coleman was seeing “some of the prettiest big grapes ever, and they sold well.”

South Carolina peaches held on during the wet weather, said Coleman, and some were still coming in. Sweet potatoes were just beginning to come to the market.

This was a season when periods of good weather were few and far between.

Roger Ball, who operates a roadside stand near Raleigh, N.C., had taken a hard hit last spring when the cold, wet weather got his strawberries off to a two-week-late marketing start.

“That was two weeks of sales we never recovered,” he said.

To make matters much worse, his strawberries fell victim to a curious disease problem in which two different strawberry viruses struck his crop at the same time. One seemed to make the other more damaging (see “Cold weather, viruses slowed North Carolina strawberry crop” May 3).

There were a few bright spots. His sweet corn took the rain reasonably well, and onions produced satisfactorily also.

Still, he said, “This is a year that I will be glad to forget.”


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