Courtesy North Carolina Department of Agriculture & Consumer ServicesConsumers shop fresh produce at a roadside stand in North Carolina.North Carolina had a wet, cold winter that extended into early spring so fresh produce is running at least 10 days later than usual, said North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler.
“It was extremely wet a month ago and now it’s dry and hot and we need rain,” said Kendall Hill, co-owner of Tull Hill Farms, Kinston, N.C., and president of the North Carolina Agribusiness Council, Cary, N.C.
Tull Hill has had to abandon some of its lettuce because of tip burn, due to the high temperatures. On the other hand, the low temperatures and wet weather have delayed the planting and growth of the sweet potato plants.
Curtis Smith, operator at T.C. Smith Produce, Seven Springs, N.C., said “the weather has been topsy-turvy and up and down and that’s the way it’s been all spring.”
At T.C. Smith, the cool spring has delayed strawberries by up to 10 days.
Almost everything is behind schedule about two weeks at Clayton Rawl Farms, Lexington, S.C., according to Chris Rawl, president of Clayton Rawl Farms, and it could be longer on some crops.
Steven Ceccarelli, owner of Farm Fresh Produce, Faison, N.C., said that the plants become confused with the inconsistent weather.
“We’ve had very warm and very cold days and that tricks the plant,” Ceccarelli said. “One moment it thinks it’s about to die and one moment it thinks it’s kicking back up for regrowth.”
Farm Fresh has had complications with cabbage bolting and expects to lose about 50% of the crop.
Things are also behind schedule at Jackson Farming Co., Autryville, N.C. Matt Solana, vice president of operations and supply chain, said that the late winter with low temperatures, heavy rains, high winds and cloud cover affected its farms from Florida to North Carolina.
Jackson Farming normally starts strawberries around April 9 and the first harvest this year is April 24. The late winter and wet fields kept Jackson Farming from planting at normal times.
Even though things are behind schedule, Solana anticipates a good season after last year’s 40 inches of rain.
“It took a huge toll and we lost 40% of the melon crop in North Carolina so anything would be an improvement this year,” Solana said.
Although dealing with the cabbage issue, Ceccarelli said that the bell peppers are handling the inclement weather and that this looks like the best bell pepper crop Farm Fresh has had in the last five years.
James Sharp, grower and salesman at Southeastern Growers Association, Kenly, N.C., also has good news to report. Although they had a lot of rain, watermelons are on schedule for harvesting around July 9.
“So far the crop looks clean and seems to be growing really well,” said Sharp.
Troxler said that the state needs the weather to cooperate but that one of the great things about farming is that “you can always enter a new growing season with enthusiasm and hope and we’re always optimistic this time of year.”
Tomato and melon markets
Tomato prices are down in North Carolina.
Doug Patterson, co-owner and vice president of Patterson Farm, Inc., China Grove, N.C., said he hopes tomato prices start increasing before Patterson Farm starts picking.
“Right now there are just too many tomatoes out there are they are selling too cheap,” he said.
The cantaloupe and watermelon season in Georgia looks to be about 10 days behind schedule, said Jackson Farming’s Solana. Georgia’s late start time could potentially run into the first part of North Carolina’s season.
“What is going to drive the pricing is how much of Georgia’s product carries in because that could deflate the market to a degree, based on what our normal pricing would be,” he said.
Solana said that as North Carolina reaches its peak in mid-July on cantaloupes and watermelons, pricing should be in the normal range as Georgia and South Carolina should be finishing.
Although it’s too early to tell what the market has in store, everyone is positive about the season. “As long as Mother Nature doesn’t interfere, we anticipate a high quality and good inventory crop this year,” said Laura Kornegay, marketing director at Nash Produce, Nashville, N.C.