By Doug Ohlemeier, The Packer

BELLE GLADE, Fla. -- One of the most severe droughts in Florida's history has cut yields and increased growing costs.

The yield losses, caused by government-ordered water restrictions that have reduced agricultural water use by nearly half, have not substantially harmed volume, however, shippers said.

Palm Beach County, which has Florida's largest agricultural production, remains under an extreme drought designation, and if the region doesn't receive sufficient rain during the summer, some worry conditions could affect fall production.

By early June, most Belle Glade-area grower shippers had finished their sweet corn and green bean harvests, which had switched to southern Georgia, but Pioneer Growers Co-op plans to pick sweet corn for its tray pack operation through July Fourth.

Tom Perryman, crop manager for Pioneer member Hundley Farms Inc., Loxahatchee, said the drought has caused some of his corn fields to lose up to a third of their yields.

Less moisture encourages growth of the cornstalk borer, a pest whose appetite hinders plant development and leaves bare spots in fields.

Perryman said growers are spending more money than usual battling such pests and on overhead irrigation in an area watered primarily by canals.

"There's been nothing like this (the drought)," Perryman said. "I have never seen anything like it in my 15 years. We have done more overhead irrigation than I can remember."

The drought did not cause major losses for Loxahatchee-based J&J Produce, which has growing operations in south and central Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Michigan.

But it's caused up to a 25% yield reduction at one of its central Florida farms near Wauchula, said Brian Rayfield, vice president of sales and marketing. In Florida, J&J has growers east of Immokalee, near the Devil?s Garden growing region, and south of LaBelle.



"This drought has made our growers work much harder trying to keep everything wet," Rayfield said. "The drought has been more of an aggravation that has made our crops most costly."