Heavy rains cloud picture for Georgia fall produce

09/25/2002 12:00:00 AM
Stephen Swarts

(Sept. 25) Mid-September rains, brought on by Hurricane Isidore, were anything but little, but they were all too late for most Georgia vegetable grower-shippers.

As much of the state’s produce — including squash, cabbage, cucumbers, sweet corn, green beans, eggplants and peppers — came online by late September, heavy rains broke what was one of the state’s worst dry stretches ever, going on five years.

“We’ve had 14 inches of rain in the past ten days,” said George Gillespie, vice president of Valley Shore Farms Inc., Moultrie, Ga., of his firm’s Dillard, Ga., operation. “Certainly it would have helped if it was spread out, but it was just too much at one time.”

Likewise in Homestead, Fla., where John Barron, salesman for Five Bros. Produce Inc., is playing a wait-and-see game.

“It’s too hard to tell (when asked if the state could see a volume decrease),” he said. “With all these storms continuing to come off the coast, we just have to wait and see, unfortunately.”

News like that could be heard from as far north as Dillard, just a mile from North Carolina, to the southern town of Moultrie, where grower-shippers cite a handbasket of reasons, including the white fly, for a fall deal facing decreased yields.

Still, said Barron, whose firm runs green beans and squash out of Rebecca, Ga., “with everything it has been through, they say the crop looks good. I’m real optimistic we’ll have a decent fall.”

At Southern Valley Fruit & Vegetable Inc., Moultrie, cucumbers, grown on 350 acres, started Sept. 16 and should continue through Thanksgiving, said owner Wanda Hamilton-Tyler.

On Sept. 24, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported south Georgia f.o.b.s for 1 1/9-bushel cartons of waxed, medium-sized cucumbers at $7-8.35.

Barron expected his firm’s southern Georgia deal to begin harvest Sept. 30 and continue through mid-November.

In late September, half- and 5/9-bushel cartons and crates of small zucchini sold for mostly $6-6.35 while small yellow straightneck sold for $5-5.35. F.o.b.s for ¾-bushel cartons of small yellow crookneck were mostly $12-12.35; mediums were mostly $6-6.35.

The state’s pepper harvest, which also should run through Thanksgiving, saw f.o.b.s for 1 1/9-bushel cartons and crates for jumbo green bell peppers at $10-12.35 on Sept. 24. Extra-larges were $10-10.35 and larges were $8-8.35. Last season, in mid-October, extra-large peppers sold for $7-8.35; large went for $7-7.35.

Most growers said they expected the season to start on time and with normal volume.

But in northern Georgia, where growers rely more on pond and stream irrigation than their southern counterparts do, Gillespie said cabbage production could be down 30% to 40%. Southern Georgia relies more on deep wells.

“We’re (in the Dillard area) doing cabbage right now,” said Gillespie as of Sept. 24. “But the crop was really damaged severely with the drought. You can pretty well call this down winding down and pretty much finished.”

Normally, he said, the Dillard deal runs until the end of October when packinghouses in Moultrie typically kick in. Gillespie said the Moultrie deal, usually slated for Oct. 25, could be up to 10 days late. It should finish around mid-January when the crop moves to Hastings, Fla.

“There has been some damage there (in Moultrie),” he said. “Is it significant? I don’t think so.”

Similar reports could be heard from Barron, who said despite the drought and a number of his growers’ wells drying up earlier this month, most fields remain in good shape. He said there could be a drop in volume due to the extreme heat — reaching in the upper 100s in mid-July — and its effect on the beans’ bloom drop.

Gillespie said current f.o.b.s for 16-18 head count premium cabbage are $6-7. In late September, the USDA reported $5.50-6 f.o.b.s for 50-pound cartons of round green-type cabbage from Michigan.

Last year, during late November and early December, south Georgia cabbage sold for $3-4.50.

Hamilton-Tyler estimated greens to start by the first of October with cabbage pegged for the middle of the month. She said greens and cabbage should run through the winter. Squash and cucumbers could face a down year.

“The crop looks good,” she said. “Hopefully, we don’t end up getting too much rain from these hurricanes.”



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