Season starts out rough for Skagit produce suppliers - The Packer

Season starts out rough for Skagit produce suppliers

08/20/2010 01:52:38 PM
Jim Offner

Dean Cunningham had just finished planting his potato crop May 20 near Mount Vernon, Wash.

Then, it rained and rained and rained.

Cunningham said his fields soaked up 6 inches of moisture May 23.

“It looks like our potato crop is down about 30% because of the torrential downpours in May,” he said. “We had a lot of drowned-out spots. It’s not shaping up well.”

The drenching was not atypical for the planting season this year, growers in the Skagit Valley said.

In fact, they said, May and June provided some of the worst conditions they had seen in quite some time.

Replanting after the rain was out of the question, Cunningham said.

“By the time it dried out, it was too late to replant,” he said. “Around here, you have to allow certain time for the skins to set. If you plant past June 15, you’re just (out of luck).”

The May rains — some in the region have said they could count the number of sunny days in the month on one hand and have fingers to spare — gave way to colder-than-normal weather in June.

Weather patterns in June generally are consistent, with average highs in the upper 60s and lows in the lower 50s.

Not this year. Six June days, the high temperature in Mount Vernon didn’t eclipse 60 degrees, and 14 nights had lows at 50 degrees or lower, including June 30’s 45, according to the National Weather Service.

“It’s been pretty rough for a lot of growers,” said Diane Dempster, manager of the Farmer’s Own program at Seattle wholesale distributor Charlie’s Produce. “We had a very cold and wet spring, so people lost some plantings and had to replant and everything is coming on late.”

Conditions improved as June gave way to July, Dempster said.

“But it’s going to be late, and it’s unclear how the yields will be,” she said. “It was a cold spring, and there was poor pollination for raspberries, and then it got hot, and it cooked a good sum of berries. We’re trying to recover from that. It’s a little bit of feast or famine with berries.”

Colored potatoes, a major crop in the Skagit Valley, likely were on a late-running schedule, as well, Dempster said.

“Potato growers are deciding everything is late, slow-growing,” she said. “Normally, you at least have potatoes to look at this time of year, but they’re still flowering. It’s been that kind of year.”

Vegetable grower Andy Ross, owner of Mount Vernon-based Skagit Flats Farm, said he eked through the spring weather with relatively few problems.

“I did lose some things from flooding early and a little broccoli and cabbage and some beans, but other than that the lettuce did really well. It’s been OK,” said Ross, who grows five varieties of lettuce and three of summer squash, along with a few other vegetable items on 13 acres. “I had lettuce on higher ground, so it didn’t get too wet.”


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