Kentucky/Tennessee: Mild weather jump-starts tomato crop

07/02/2012 08:54:00 AM
Melissa Shipman

Crops are coming in early for the 2012 season, and harvest looks to be good in Kentucky and Tennessee.

“Tomatoes are the big crop here, and they are expected to be ready about two weeks early,” said Kenny Pendergrass, vice president of purchasing at Dixie Produce Inc., Chattanooga, Tenn.

Tomatoes, which usually begin around the Fourth of July for Dixie Produce, were expected to begin the third week of June.

In fact, Pendergrass said everything is two weeks early.

“It’s because of the warmer weather,” he said.

Grow Farms. Louisville, Ky., began harvesting straightneck and crookedneck zucchini in Tennessee around the second week of June, two weeks after they began in Kentucky, according to Brian Knott, president. He says prices have been about average for this year.

“Strawberries were two or three weeks early, which was a surprise for growers,” said Adam Watson, produce marketing specialist for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

Watson agrees that tomatoes and peppers will be early, but not enough to change the main push that usually hits in late June and early July.

“It’s a little accelerated, but not too significantly,” he said.

Knott says the supply should be better this year than last year.

“This year’s weather is a lot better than last year, giving our growers a good growing season,” he said. “It’s been night and day compared to last year, when it was extremely wet with too many cloudy days so the plants didn’t have the proper sunlight to grow the way they should have, giving us bad quality and small yields.”

Knott says everything looks good for this year, though.

“Mother Nature has been really kind,” he said. “Growers nationwide are a lot happier.”

The good quality and early season could also mean a shorter season.

“I think crops all look good but it’s one of those cases where everything will probably come in and out quickly,” Pendergrass said. “That’s what we are seeing everywhere else. Deals are ending quicker.”

Another challenge that comes with mild weather is more pests.

“(We’ve had) more insect problems this year due to very mild winter,” Annette Wszelaki, commercial vegetable extension specialist for the Department of Plant Sciences at the University of Tennessee, said in an e-mail.

Wszelaki says the added pests can be especially challenging for organic operations.

“In organic systems, planting of beneficial habitats to attract natural predators, organic insecticides, biological control release and hand removal are being employed,” she said. “It can be more of a challenge in an organic system because the grower tries to remove the pest and keep the beneficial insects intact.”

Still, Wszelaki says that this season everything is “so far, so good.”



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