Wet weather in March, April and May have pushed back start dates for vegetables in Delaware. Fifer Orchards' sweet corn is running about a week late and could begin by early July. ( Courtesy Fifer Orchards )

Heavy spring rains pushed back harvest dates for vegetable crops in the Del-Mar-Va growing region this year.

While that could create skips in supply for some commodities in July, most growers contacted in June were looking forward to a strong year.

Heavy rains in May caused some growers to scramble to remove standing water from some fields of vegetables, said Kevin Evans, owner of Evans Farms LLC, Bridgeville, Del.

“We actually pumped off more water in May than we put on,” Evans said, noting that the planting delays could create supply gaps in July.

We actually pumped off more water in May than we put on.

However, Curt Fifer, sales director for Wyoming, Del.-based Fifer Orchards said the rain in his growing region didn’t prevent him from getting plantings of vegetables in on time.

“Everything is going to be good without gaps,” he said. “It is just going to be a little late.”

Meanwhile, Fifer reported peach orchards in Delaware have a full crop, with no cold injury at all. Peach harvest there will begin in mid-July and continue through mid-September.

 

Fifer Orchards peach blossoms
Courtesy Fifer Orchards

 

Rainy days

Cool and wet weather in March, April and May set crop progress back, but weather in June was favorable, said Richard Papen, owner of Papen Farms, Dover, Del.

Yields could be off because of growing conditions, he said.

Papen said his cabbage would begin harvest by mid-June, compared with usual harvest timing in early June.

Sweet corn was running about a week late and could begin by early July. Green beans will begin by the end of June, he said.

Ours is not as bad shape, so really we’ve been very fortunate.

Papen said his farm has had about five inches of rain over two weeks, but some growing areas 30 miles to the south had 10-15 inches in the same period.

“Ours is not as bad shape, so really we’ve been very fortunate,” he said.

Sweet corn will start in early July and go in September. Green beans, beginning in late June, will be harvested to about July 25.

With overall acreage steady, Papen estimated the firm’s acreage for cabbage was a little less than last year, while sweet corn acreage increased a little.

Papen Farms will market from Maine to Florida, with early shipments tending to go north because Delaware harvest is running ahead of those northern regions. Later in the season, the pattern is reversed, with more shipments to Southern states.

 

Good potato outlook

While the spring was cold and wet, the outlook for potatoes on the Eastern Shore of Virginia is still positive, said David Hickman, vice president of Dublin Farms, Horntown, Va.

“I think the crop will be excellent,” he said. “We have not had excessive rain, but we have had rain every time we needed it.”

Through early June, the firm has irrigated only one time during the growing season, which he said was very unusual.

“We are a little bit later than normal, but I think we’ll be shipping by the first of July,” Hickman said.

Hickman said potato varieties shipped include red potatoes, white potatoes and yellow-flesh potatoes. Harvest will wind up about Aug. 10-12, he said.

We are a little bit later than normal, but I think we’ll be shipping by the first of July.

“I think it will be pretty orderly marketing during July,” Hickman said, noting he doesn’t anticipate overlap with Florida’s potato deal.

Acreage is similar to a year ago, he said.

The company has strong local support, including a buy local program from Walmart, he said.

The company is a member of the Virginia’s Finest marketing program, which requires companies to meet certain quality standards.

“I think consumers want to know where their product came from. If it’s produced in state, I think that enhances the sales,” he said.

Potatoes, green beans and tomatoes dominate the Eastern Shore of Virginia, said Butch Nottingham, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services market specialist.

“As far as potatoes, they are looking pretty good. We were probably a little a little later than last year, although a few folks down in the southern end of the peninsula may start around June 20. We should be running most sheds by early July,” he said.

Potato harvest should wrap up by Aug. 10-12.

“Crop at the present looks great,” he said. “We’ve had adequate rainfall. Fields I’m looking at are looking really good.”

Potato acreage may be down 5% to 10%, he said.

Growers produce whites, reds, yellows and russets, he said, and acreage typically varies between 3,000 and 4,000 acres on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, he said.

Organic production is limited on the eastern shore, Nottingham said.

“Organic is kind of tough when you have a lot of humidity, and, of course, we were the ocean on one side, the bay on the other, but we have some successful organic operations, but nothing on a scale of conventional,” he said.

 

Labor, trucks

Suppliers said labor and trucks are long-term challenges for growers. With no acute labor shortages reported in mid-June, trucks were perhaps a more immediate worry.

Hickman said there are fewer trucks on the road because of federal regulations and costs have increased.

“People writing these regulations have no concept of the trucking business,” he said, speaking about a truckers hours of service regulation.

Literally, we were having trouble just finding trucks at whatever price.

“I don’t sleep for 10 hours. I don’t know anybody that does.”

Many older independent truckers have parked their trucks, he said.

Fifer said it is a given that truck rates are up this year.

“I just hope it isn’t like last fall,” he said.

“Literally, we were having trouble just finding trucks at whatever price. That’s a big concern for me.”

 
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