Mother Nature’s apparent seasonal confusion in the past six months has caused a variety of problems for many growers in the Carolinas.
Warm weather in December and January followed by unseasonably cold and wet weather in March, April and May put most of the vegetables at least two weeks behind schedule. For some commodities that are planted in phases to ensure a longer harvest season, the inclement conditions resulted in one less planting this year.
“On our sweet corn we didn’t get the early planting in as early as we like,” said Chris Rawl, president of Clayton Rawl Farms, Lexington, S.C. “Then weather slowed down emergence on that planting, and we had to wait to put in the second planting.”
Despite the issues earlier in the year, Rawl said he expects to have good quality sweet corn with harvest likely to begin in mid-June. He said that is at least two weeks later than normal, but “there’s nothing we can do when the weather doesn’t cooperate.”
Some of Rawl’s other crops were initially stunted because of the winter-like temperatures in April and early May, but he said they have recovered. Cilantro sales have been particularly good this spring, he said, with demand outpacing his supplies.
Kale also is doing well at the Rawl operation, which is good news for the family farm because it increased acreage of the leafy green by about 10% this year. Rawl said he may be able to get four cuttings out of the crop.
Further north, at Tull Hill Farms in Kinston, N.C., another leafy green is having a slow start. Kendall Hill, co-owner and chairman of the board for the North Carolina Vegetable Growers Association, said the unseasonable weather this spring gave his lettuce “a lot of trouble.”
“I’m hearing the same thing about spinach from some of the growers,” Hill said
Temperatures in north central North Carolina dipped into the low 30s in early May, he said.
Hill matched Rawl’s assessment that most of the vegetables in the Carolinas are coming on late this year by at least two weeks. He said some cabbage growers will likely be faced with crops “burning up in the fields” if the weather turns hot and stays that way.
“We can still have a good growing season, but it’s definitely late,” Hill said.
The spring weather patterns are also already having an impact on the fall sweet potato crop in Hill’s region. He said many growers start planting May 10, but the fields were still too wet. He said he hopes to start planting around May 27.
“That will have an impact on the production this fall, though, because we won’t have enough time to plant as many acres as we usually do,” Hill said.
Other staples for Carolina growers also are late but poised to provide good quality despite the off weather.
At Farm Fresh Produce, Faison, N.C., Steven Ceccarelli and wife, Bethany, said they’re glad they re-entered the bell pepper deal for the 2013 season. Bethany Ceccarelli said the bells are coming in strong and looking good. They expect harvest to begin around the second week of June.
The napa cabbage at Farm Fresh is also in good shape, she said, with sales already brisk.
“We could even use some more to sell,” she said.
The bell peppers at Patterson Farm Inc., China Grove, N.C., are looking strong, said vice president Doug Patterson, but they are also late.
“All of the vegetables are at least two weeks behind,” Patterson said. “Our cucumbers are probably three weeks or more later than usual.”
Patterson said he put in 150 acres each of tomatoes and bell peppers for the 2013 season. Some blooms have emerged, but development is behind schedule.
Patterson said he did not plant any cantaloupe this season because they are generally ready at the same time as the tomatoes and peppers and all three crops coming in at once wasn’t manageable from a harvest standpoint.
Even though his tomato fields are lagging behind the traditional calendar this year, Patterson is shipping the summer favorite already.
He said his year-round tomato repacking business is going well and provides some stability when the weather disrupts his normal harvest routine.