A late March freeze wreaked havoc on some Southern crops, but the classic Southern veg crops in North Carolina and South Carolina are coming off just fine, thank you. Harvest has already begun on some items and growers will be picking well into the summer.
“Mother Nature has not been friendly at all,” said Tony Melton, county extension agent with South Carolina’s Clemson University.
Just a few days ago, the northern part of the state had between eight and 14 inches of rain depending on where you were standing. Wind has been an issue. Downy mildew and pests like grasshoppers and spider mites have flourished in the wet conditions.
Yet, “We’ve still got some good crops going,” Melton said. “I think [growers] will come out alright, they’ll make it somewhere. You might not make it on one crop but you’ll make it on another and that’s the way you have to do it with vegetables – prices go up and down and you’ve got to make it when you make it and hopefully break even when you don’t.”
North Carolina growers have had an easier time of it. Though there has been a lot of rain in the Tarheel State as well, a remarkably warm winter has veg crops coming off a bit early. Abundant supplies of yellow squash and zucchini are already being picked and the rest of the veg deal is following right behind.
Said Glen Herring of Pope and Sons farms in Clinton, NC, a growing partner of Raleigh-based L&M Companies, “It’s all coming together pretty good. We had a pretty mild winter and were able to get in the fields early. Everything looks fair at this point. We’ve got 100 acres of bell pepper, 100 acres of cucumber and about 30 acres of squash. We just recently started harvesting squash like two weeks ago and that will run for another month roughly. It’s going to be one of those years where its early, no doubt about that.”
“It all looks pretty good,” said L&M product manager Brock Christian. “We’re just getting started with squash and cucumbers are right around the corner. This deal is so fast and furious. You’re in squash and cucumbers until the end of June – 30 days from now we’ll be done.”
“As the squash tapers off we’ll begin to harvest the bell pepper, we try to harvest that into the first weeks of August,” Herring said. “With some experiments we’ve done in the past we’ve made that work all the way into August. That will kind of wrap us up and we’ll have a little break and start back again in the fall.”
Back in South Carolina, many farmers have diverse operations that provide a little cover from nature’s curveballs. Melton says a lot of squash is already coming in from the fields and near the end of May “tomatoes are sizing up, I saw some yesterday almost as big as my fist. I’ve seen cantaloupes as big as softballs, they’ll be picking in the middle of June, maybe even before that. I know some people with some watermelons that are going to be early but most of our people go into the middle summer with the watermelon crop.
“If our growers fight it good, and they are fighters, they’re going to make some money one way or another. If you don’t make it on spinach you might make it on peas or sweet potatoes or green peanuts – we do a little bit of everything.”