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EDITOR’S NOTE – Clemson University Extension expert Tony Melton is a regular contributor to SPW. If you have an article or idea you’d like to contribute, send it to us at info@southeastproduceweekly.com.

Tony Melton

Sorry folks, my crystal ball is broken this spring.

I always tell farmers that farming is much more exciting than going to Las Vegas.  This may be why we always talk about supporting our farming habit.  Everything can be great before going to bed and the next morning we wake up to a disaster.

After growing-up with peaches and working with peach farmers most of my life I have become accustomed to spring frosts.  In my opinion, no one meteorologist can compare with the frost soothsaying of a peach farmer, who stews all available information to determine the forecast before they take action.

So, when all types of farmers call me to get my best guess about frost I talk to my peach growers first and then put together my custom-built soothsaying for the individual farmer. I call it soothsaying because as everyone knows frost is very unpredictable and so far, no one can tell you exactly what may happen.  Maybe one day it will be like the Back To The Future movie where the weather is exact.

Spring frosts are difficult but I have found that other threats like floods and wind maybe even more devastating.

Floods are just heartbreaking. The past few years floods including hurricanes have been devastating to South Carolina produce. In many instances there is just nothing you can do.

But these are a few suggestions I can make to lessen the damage. First, have a place for the water to go.  I know ditches are a pain-in-the-butt because they divide-up/reduce acreage in a produce field, but if dug/placed properly they get the water out of fields fast.

A flooded South Carolina peanut field

One of the wettest produce fields in my area planted with turnips survived South Carolina’s Storm of the Century in 2016 because it was well-ditched and the farmer had worked hard to lower the edges of the ditches so that the water would flow out fast and easily. When he started complaining about having to clean out the ditches he stopped and said, “I guess it is better to clean ditches than to lose crops.”

Also, the field was a fairly, heavy soil which I have mixed emotions about because heavy soils causes heavy rain to run-off the field quickly but it also stays wet a long time preventing re-entry with equipment.

When it rains hard, drain tile alone will not save your butt.  It is great to add to the ditches, but if you have bottoms it doesn’t get the water out of the field quick enough for most produce crops.  For instance, a 3-4 inch rain that stands 3-4 hours is death to spinach. Plant sensitive crops like spinach on land with a slope for water to drain. Then have a ditch at the bottom of the slope to keep the water moving.  In fact, with GAP rules if water stands/floods a field it cannot be harvested.

This spring winds have been terrible in South Carolina.  I have been fairly successful soothsaying about frosts, but wind is even more unpredictable and just anyone’s best guess. I have seen fields of pickles, watermelons, and tomatoes devastated by wind and blowing sand. The bigger the plants (up to a certain point) the worse the damage because the larger plants act like propellers and the plants wring-off at the soil.

As Paul Harvey once said, “And God Made a Farmer.”

We continue on…

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