“We don’t like worms,” said Parker, third-generation co-owner of the 2,000-acre vegetable farm in northeastern Virginia.
Like many other growers in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S., Parker has experienced a much better growing season this year than in 2018, when rains flooded out fields.
“We’ve had perfect weather, and we have high hopes for the crops this year, fingers crossed,” Parker said.
“Last year was horrible. It wouldn’t stop raining. We never got out of the mud all season. But from Maryland down to Georgia, it’s been much more favorable this year. It’s been hot the last couple weeks, but if I have to choose one, I’ll take the heat.”
Maryland, Delaware and Georgia catch the market in between the South and the North, when the lower states become too broiling hot and the upper states are still too cool.
“Last year, we were soaked for the longest time. We caught up this year. We’re right on schedule, if not earlier. Overall, it’s been great,” said Brad Miller of Miller Farms in Clinton, Md. He’s president of Maryland Vegetable Growers Association.
At Miller Farms, kale and collards are the first to crops to come in, starting the first week of May, lasting until July before subsequent plantings carry the greens into fall.
Strawberries came in late May, which was a little early, Miller said. Yellow summer squash and zucchini began the last week of May, and he started picking cucumbers June 3. Cantaloupe was expected around June 10.
Eggplants, tomatoes and peppers are typically the first summer crops in the ground, and by the second week of June, Miller said his farm was ready to tie the vines to stakes.
Miller’s first cabbage crop came early June, and he expected the main crop to be ready the week of June 10.
“The cabbage market has been going crazy, and New Jersey and us are the only ones that seem to have it,” Miller said, mentioning extreme heat in the South and floods in Ohio.
“It’s been a good first week for us. We’ll see how it plays out — just trying to get in that window before Canada and New York start.”
Past president of the association, Guy Moore runs Larriland Farm in western Howard County, Md., about 40 miles outside of Washington, D.C., with his sister, brother-in-law, cousin and nephew.
“So far, so good. Can’t complain. It rained all the time in this area last year,” Moore said.
By the first week of June, his strawberries were finishing up and blueberries were looking ready for picking by mid-June. Tomatoes should be ready by June 20.
Like other crops, the state’s watermelon yield should be better than in 2018.
Maryland shipped 700,000 pounds of seeded watermelon in 2018, half the amount compared to 1.4 million pounds in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The state shipped 62.8 million pounds of seedless watermelon in 2018, compared to 67.3 million in 2017 — dropping by 4.5 million pounds during the wet more recent year.
Delaware’s largest fresh commodities, potatoes and watermelons, ship mostly from July through November, with a peak in August.
In 2018, the state shipped 12.5 million pounds of potatoes, 4 million less than the previous drier year’s 16.5 million, according to the USDA.
Delaware shipped 500,000 pounds of seeded watermelon during those wet months in 2018, compared to 1.4 million pounds in 2017. For seedless watermelon, the state shipped 100.7 million pounds in 2018, compared to 107.3 million pounds in 2017.
By the first week of June, strawberry season was wrapping up and Delaware was seeing its first harvest of blueberries, said Stacey Hofmann, chief of community relations for the Delaware Department of Agriculture.
“They are plump, sweet, and doing great,” Hofmann said.
All in all, Delaware farms have been reporting a good growing season so far, although the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reports that crops are slightly behind, she said.
Yields should be on par with other normal years — much better than the crop damage that came from the excessive rain and moisture in 2018.
“It’s been nothing like last year’s weather, and we are happy for a bit of relief,” Hofmann said.
The rain that has come has been sporadic and in different areas each time.
According to the Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association of Delaware, the state’s fruit and vegetable acreage ranges from 45,000 to 55,000 acres. About one-third of the acreage goes to the fresh market, and the rest is processed by freezing, canning or pickling.
Potatoes, tomatoes and watermelons made the USDA list for Virginia. The state shipped 52.3 million pounds of fresh potatoes in 2018, compared to 68.7 pounds in 2017, according to the USDA.
For tomatoes, Virginia shipped 38.6 million pounds in 2018, compared to 43 million pounds in 2017.
Watermelons did not follow the trend of a sharp decrease from 2017 to 2018: For seeded watermelons, the state shipped 1.3 million pounds in 2018, compared to 1 million pounds in 2017. And for seedless watermelons, Virginia shipped 15.8 million pounds in 2018, compared to 11.7 pounds in 2017.
In northeastern Virginia, Parker Farms grows sweet corn, broccoli, yellow summer squash, zucchini and a little bit of asparagus.
Rafe Parker said his company’s 750 acres of sweet corn should start by the last week of June and last six weeks.
By the first week of June, Parker Farms was halfway through harvesting its 1,000 acres of broccoli, and squash was underway since mid-May. Parker does successive plantings of squash through the summer until the first frost in late October or early November.
“We just plant a little bit every week, so we always have one finishing up. That kind of spreads our risk with weather,” Parker said.
Prices have been good so far for broccoli, but for corn, “not so good,” he said. Georgia’s heat means its five-week season is condensed to three weeks, so there’s extra supply right now.
But once Georgia finishes up, it’s the mid-Atlantic’s turn before the market turns to New York, which is expected to be late for sweet corn.
The mid-Atlantic doesn’t produce much sweet corn, so the gap in production could make a good window for Parker Farms, he said.
Eastern Virginia’s sandy loam soil and temperate climate make it good for vegetable growing, especially potatoes, green beans and tomatoes, said Butch Nottingham, marketing specialist for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer services, representing the eastern part of the state.
The local crops, which sport the “Virginia Grown” label, look like they’ll start about the same time as other normal seasons, he said. It was a little wet early on, which delayed planting, but it dried up and the rest of the season has been smooth.
Round white, red, yellow and russet potatoes should start by June 20 and finish by the first week or so of August, Nottingham said. Potato acreage has been consistent the past 10 years or so, staying between 3,500 and 4,000 acres, 96% of it on the Eastern Shore.
“We’re sitting in a sweet spot, it looks to me right now with weather and marketing, potatoes in particular. Canadian storage potatoes will be very low when we begin our harvest, and they are a big market for us,” Nottingham said.
Unlike most potato-producing areas in landlocked states, eastern Virginia plants its potatoes in cool weather and digs them out in hot weather. They’re sold fresh, Nottingham said.
David Hickman of Dublin Farms in Horntown, Va., was one of the bigger potato producers that had a lot rain that delayed planting a tad, but the potatoes made up for it.
Even with slightly hotter temperatures, Hickman expects normal yields, shipping 12-15 loads of potatoes daily from late June through mid-August.
Hickman said reds should be ready by June 25, whites on July 1 and yellows on July 10.
“It’s been really an ideal growing season in this area,” Hickman said.
Cheriton, Va.-based C&E Farms may be the largest fresh green bean producer on the East Coast, starting in Florida during winter and working up the coast to end in southern Pennsylvania, producing about 16.8 million to 21.6 million pounds a year, Nottingham said.
Harvest began in late May and should last until October.
The tomato crop should start early July and run until October, Nottingham said.
“We haven’t had any significant setbacks. It’s been a good growing season,” he said.
Accomack County, Va., Del Monte Fresh grows watermelon to send to a fresh-cut facility. Watermelon should run from early July into September, Nottingham said.
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