Vegetable growers impacted by massive amounts of rain this season

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 21, 2018

By Liz Moomey

SALISBURY — As Rowan County recovers from two hurricanes, the effect on farmers remains.

For tomato growers, Hurricane Florence and Hurricane Michael hit during harvesting. David Correll of Correll Farms, said 50 percent of the fruit harvested this past week was unsellable.

“Florence caught the end of the second crop,” Correll said. “Michael affected the end of the third and final crop.”

Michael Fine, the agriculture and natural resource agent at Rowan County Cooperative Extension, said timing is important for growers.

“Planting and harvest windows are very specific, and any major disruption in their scheduling effect the outcome of their crops,” Fine said.  “Late season tomatoes took a hit with an increase in fungal and bacterial disease pressure as well splits occurring on ripening fruit. Many fruits were nearing the harvest stage of production, a 72-day growth cycle, only to split in the final stages of ripening.”

Correll said they would have continued to sell at the farmers market for another two weeks, but couldn’t.

Mike Miller of Miller Farm said the quality of his fruit and vegetables wasn’t good because of the large amount of rain. He said losing a couple weeks of sales is better than selling low quality food.

“One bad item can ruin your reputation and could lose business for the next year,” Miller said.

For his tomato crop, 60 percent was unsellable after the hurricanes.

Fine said statewide farmers agree that this season had too much rain.

“Vegetable growers across the state all had similar sentiments regarding the overall growing conditions this season: too much rain,” Fine said. “To harvest quality fruits and vegetables, growers strive to perfect the art of water management.” 

Miller said lack of rain is better.

“For commercial farmers, drought is better than too much rain,” he said.

He added the eight inches of rain in early August caused a significant amount of his crop to be unsellable. Correll said some of the isolated storms can cause more damage, recalling a hail storm that shredded his crops.

Hurricane Michael also impacted another part of Miller Farm — its corn maze. Miller said they couldn’t open the corn maze on Oct. 12, the day they would typically open. Miller said they still had a lot of mud last Saturday, but they couldn’t afford to lose a third of their profits from the corn maze. He added that closing the first day is better than the last weekend.

All and all, Correll said they are fortunate the hurricanes didn’t impact them as greatly as eastern North Carolina and Florida.

“Our livelihood will continue,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with those guys. It’s going to be a a long road.”

Fine said farmers are used to the ups and downs, but this year the vegetable farmers were hit especially hard.

“Seasoned vegetable farmers are used to seasonal volatility of products, but this year in particular will stand out as a tough one for the books,” he said.