Mild winter, spring gives Georgia Produce an early start

05/04/2012 01:16:00 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

Georgia growers plan to begin production of many commodities at least a week to 10 days earlier than normal.

Unseasonably warm winter and early spring temperatures helped hasten crop maturities.

Grower-shippers say this season is unlike any other.

“We have about as perfect weather as you can have,” said Jon Schwalls, director of operations for Southern Valley Fruit & Vegetable Inc., Norman Park, Ga.

“The growing conditions have been fantastic. We’ve had plenty of sunshine and very little overcast conditions,” he said.

“It hasn’t been overly hot and we have had mild nights. Everything is just like a picture. There’s nothing that’s not just perfect this year.”

Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc. expects a typical late May start for its bell peppers, said operations manager Adam Lytch, but squash started a week earlier than normal, in mid-April.

Lytch said the company expects to start cucumbers in early May, two weeks earlier than normal.

“There is some concern about Florida and Georgia gapping because of Florida coming on and finishing early, but Georgia will be earlier on some items too, so it shouldn’t be that much of a problem like the bells, which will be short between now and Georgia starting,” he said in mid-April.

“Overall, we have had excellent growing conditions. You really could not expect much more.”

The abnormally warm growing season helped Coggins Farm and Produce Inc., Lake Park, Ga., start its green beans in late April, about 10 days earlier than its normal early May start, said Harry Sheaffer, vice president of Fresh Link Consolidation LLC, Coggins’ sales agent.

“Everything looks real good,” he said in late April.

“It’s been dry but we’ve had great weather. This is the earliest we’ve ever started on beans,” he said.

“(I) am not sure if it will follow through down the line but we will see some product start a little bit earlier than usual.”

On corn, Belle Glade, Fla.-based Pioneer Growers Co-op plans to begin its Bainbridge, Ga., harvesting May 10, about two weeks ahead of normal, said Bryan Biederman, assistant sales manager.

While Florida harvests through Memorial Day, Biederman said he’s not concerned about an overlap. He said Georgia growers normally plant small volumes for mid-May harvesting and said the state shouldn’t produce high volumes until after the holiday.

“Georgia had a very warm March,” he said in late April.

“Things moved ahead. The quality looks well up there as well.”

Buyers should expect earlier starts to the state’s blueberry, peach and watermelon crops.

Growers estimate 50% losses to the early southern highbush crop from Feb. 11-12 freezes.

“The highbush volume are substantially down,” said Jerry D’Amore, director of sourcing for Watsonville, Calif.-based Dole Berry Co. LLC’s Winter Haven, Fla., operation.

“What volume they have will come earlier than usual. Volumes will be light enough to see the Florida deal going until every berry is picked to late May, going beyond a normal Florida cycle.”

Will McGehee, salesman with Genuine Georgia Group and Pearson Farm, Fort Valley, Ga., said this season’s peach crop should start with small production in the southern regions in late April and early May. He expects the bulk of Georgia’s production to hit May 13, possibly a week earlier than the normal mid-May start.

“We dodged a bullet with the freeze, and, with the mild winter we had, we are excited for the season,” McGehee said in mid-April.

“We are seeing nice fruit set. There’s a lot of optimism in the deal.”

On watermelon, grower-shippers look to start by early June, before the normal June 5-10 start.

Greg Leger, president and partner in Leger & Son Inc., Cordele, Ga., said warm weather could move growers to begin harvesting in late May.

“As everyone’s moving a little early, it should all slot all together,” he said in late April.

“North Florida may come in a little before Memorial Day this year instead of after, as usual. I think it will all be balanced and hopefully there won’t be any lumps in the chain.”

Georgia growers also produce volumes of cabbage, tomatoes, greens and cantaloupe.



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