Mother Nature’s decision to skip spring and go directly to summer may have harmed delicate fruit blossoms, but vegetable growers in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia report near-perfect planting conditions.
However, the dry spring forced some growers to irrigate before planting, said Mark Powell, chief of marketing and agribusiness development for Annapolis-based Maryland Department of Agriculture.
“We planted maybe a little early, and we could use more rain,” said Richard Papen, vice president of Dover, Del.-based Papen Farms Inc. “But we’ll probably harvest right on schedule, though cabbage and sweet corn may be a little early.”
Papen said he hopes cabbage prices will pick up as his spring crop hits the market between June 1 and July 20 to compensate for the rising cost of seeds, fertilizer and diesel fuel for transportation and irrigation.
Papen and other mid-Atlantic corn growers are waiting for the large Florida crop to finish before their season begins in early July.
“We hope they finish by early July so we can get in a decent market and they don’t run into us,” Papen said.
David Hickman, vice president of Horntown, Va.-based Dublin Farms, on Virginia’s eastern shore, expects a good quality crop by June 20, two weeks early, thanks to the combination of warm days and cool nights.
“We planted the first two weeks of March, and they’re growing much faster than normal,” said Hickman, who grows round whites, red and yellow varieties.
Ken Wicks, who grows round white and yellow potatoes on his Middletown, Del.-based Lazy Boy Farms, said he’s grateful for his early start, on March 25.
“The last two years it was so wet we didn’t finish planting until almost the 20th of April,” Wicks said.
Mid-Atlantic potato growers are now waiting for Florida and Carolina to wind down before they start digging.
“Production areas may overlap more than usual,” Hickman said, “but there seems to be strong demand and not many old-crop potatoes around, which will reduce competition.”
As for price, Hickman said white and yellow potatoes have been very good, and he hopes the red market will pick up.
On Virginia’s eastern shore, Calvert Cullen, fourth-generation owner of Cheriton-based grower and packer Northampton Growers Produce Sales Inc., expected to have cabbage by May 28 and said he expects cucumbers and squash to be ready by June 28, with sweet peppers by July 4.
Cullen said he expects prices to remain steady, and said numbers on foodservice and retail are up a little this year, mostly due to the steady market.
Bob Colson, president of Cheriton, Va.-based C&E Farms, which packs up to 700,000 bushels of green beans for customers along the I-95 corridor, also reports a good start to the 2012 season.
“We started planting in Havelock, N.C. on March 26, said Colson, “and the crop is looking great, with some nice rainfall.”
To combat average green bean prices and stimulate movement, Colson said he has been offering chain stores good ad pricing to keep retails down.