Georgia growers remain wary of weather

09/02/2011 09:13:00 AM
Dan Gailbraith

After seven straight months of above-average temperatures and below-average rainfall, Georgia growers are heading into the fall deal with their eyes on the skies as an active hurricane season threatens to bring more trouble their way.

Several growers and distributors said in late August that they couldn’t predict what the fall season would bring.

Reports from members in the third week of August showed many had not yet started planting, said Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association.

At Americus, Ga.-based Fresh Plants Inc., manager Charles Hart was beginning to see a few tips of green in the irrigated fields of snap beans and green beans, but growth was slow.

“Beans are like you and me,” Hart said. “They don’t like to come out when it’s too hot.”

Hart said Fresh Plants has about the same amount of acreage planted this year as last, and he was optimistic that yields would be at least as good as 2010, “barring any unforeseen problems.”

He said the operation was “somewhat on schedule.”

Calvert Cullen, president of Northampton Growers Produce Sales Inc., Moultrie, Ga., said cabbage, cucumber, pepper and eggplant fields were coming in despite the hot, dry weather.

“There is still a bit of a water shortage,” Cullen said. “But everything is looking good so far.”

Northampton is the sales agent for five Georgia growers and ships produce across the U.S. and Canada.

Although Cullen said he expected overall acreage to be down slightly this year, he said that would work to their advantage because it would help keep prices high.

Blackwater Produce salesman Steve Sterling said the company’s Lake Park, Ga., operations were “status quo.”

“It’s been dry, but the irrigation seems to be keeping up with it,” Sterling said, adding that cucumbers, squash, beans and peppers all were coming on as expected.

The fall sweet corn also was coming along as expected in Camilla, Ga., according to Brett Bergman, co-owner of Hugh H. Branch Inc.

“We anticipate harvest to begin in late September,” Bergman said. “Our acreage is down a bit from last year, and we anticipate quality to be very good, barring any late-season hurricanes or weather adversity.”

Duke Lane Jr., vice president of sales with Lane Southern Orchards, Fort Valley, Ga., also is watching the Atlantic closely this fall.

Lane said his middle area of Georgia escaped one of the early tests of hurricane season. Hurricane Irene didn’t even bring his trees in the Fort Valley area any rain.

“We didn’t get a shower,” he said. “We didn’t even know when it was passing us.”

With 3,000 acres of pecan trees at risk in the Fort Valley area, Lane said the threat of Hurricane Irene in late August reminded him of Hurricane Ivan. That Category 5 storm spawned more than 100 tornadoes along the East Coast.

“We lost 1,200 trees to Ivan,” Lane said. “People always talk about the flooding along the coast, but they seem to forget the high winds and how far in they can come.”



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