Hurricane Irene leaves a mark, but most crops survive

09/01/2011 07:48:00 AM
Doug Ohlmeier

Though Hurricane Irene flooded farms and could cause some supply gaps, early estimates show the storm may not have caused major damage to Mid-Atlantic and Northeast production.

Parker FarmsHurricane Irene dumped torrential rains on Mid-Atlantic growing regions, like at this field in the Northern Neck area of Virginia across from the Eastern Shore. Though growers report damage, shippers and officials don’t expect large crop losses.Growers spent the days following the Aug. 27-28 storm trying to get into flooded fields.

Al Murray, New Jersey assistant secretary of agriculture, said damage is sporadic throughout the Garden State. He said he heard of isolated incidents of corn being knocked over and fruit being blown off trees.

“We’re still assessing the damage because a lot of the roads and fields are still flooded,” he said Aug. 30. “We should see some supply gaps.”

Murray said rain washed away many fall plantings of greens and lettuces and flood waters could damage tomatoes, squash, bell peppers and cucumbers. He said he expects growers to quickly replant.

Though there is widespread damage, consumers should expect continued availability of Jersey Fresh produce, according to an Aug. 31 New Jersey Farm Bureau release.

The storm, which made landfall on North Carolina’s Outer Banks before plowing into the Delmarva Eastern Shore region, caused significant damage to fields at Northampton Growers Produce Sales Inc., Cheriton, Va.

“From general assessment, on the North Carolina farms, I don’t know if there will be anything left,” said Calvert Cullen, president. “One farm I spoke with, a string bean farm, there’s nothing left but stalks in the field. All the leaves are gone.”

Richard Papen, vice president of Papen Farms Inc., Dover, Del., said his fields received 10 inches of rain, knocking down 100 acres of corn, but he expects normal cabbage and green bean harvesting with smaller yields.

“We lost a lot in the wet holes where the water ran and sat,” Papen said. “We should have a 60% crop.”

Torrential rains waterlogged Eastern Shore squash and broccoli, said Rod Parker, general manager of Parker Farms LLC, Oak Grove, Va.

“The damage is primarily drown spots,” he said. “A lot of younger crops will be drowned out. We should lose 20%. We will lose some crops, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.”

The storm damaged watermelon in northeast North Carolina, but the state’s summer potato crop is already harvested, said Tommy Fleetwood, agricultural marketing specialist in the Elizabeth City, N.C., marketing office of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

George Wooten, president of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., Chadbourn, N.C., said North Carolina’s fall sweet potato region should suffer no more than 10% in damage from 2-3 inches of rain.

Northeast fruit also appears to have escaped significant damage.

Michael Blume, a salesman with Keystone Fruit Marketing Inc., Greencastle, Pa., said Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey didn’t sustain major damage but said sales slowed as power outages affected trips to grocery stores.

Though the saturated soil toppled trees, Peter Gregg, communications spokesman for the New York Apple Association, Fishers, said the Empire State’s apples fared well and didn’t receive significant damage into its first weeks of harvesting.

The new Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market building held up well through the storm but a modification of weekend operating hours produced a long line of trucks entering the market the day after the storm, said Tad Thompson, business development manager.

Hurricane Irene, which was downgraded to a tropical storm as it approached New York on Aug. 28, also didn’t harm the Hunts Point Terminal Market.

However, market co-chairman Matthew D’Arrigo, vice president of D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York Inc., said widespread flooding and road closures disrupted employee and customer travel to the Bronx facility. He said suburban regions, including parts of Queens and Long Island, and inland areas such as Westchester County, Conn., and New Jersey, endured extensive flooding.



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