Georgia Vegetable Growers’ Hopes Chilled

first_imgJust as Georgia vegetable growers had recovered from a midwinter freeze, Mother Natureput the chill on again.”Most farmers who decided to replant after the early-February freeze were hitagain with almost total losses in greens,” said Terry Kelley, a horticulturist withthe University of Georgia Extension Service.”Georgia greens producers sustained near 100 percent losses for the second time inclose to five weeks,” Kelley said.Farmers who had planted greens, onions, cabbage, watermelons, tomatoes, peppers orsquash face losses and the cost of replanting again.Vidalia onion growers were hit hard, too. “This latest freeze almost assures us of40 percent losses in this year’s onion crop,” Kelley said.Based on 1995 prices, Kelley expects a monetary loss close to $31 million in onionsalone.The March freeze caused less physical damage to the onion bulbs, Kelley said, but morehidden damage that may not show up for a month or more.”The cold makes the onion think it’s completed its life cycle,” he said. Theresulting seed stems make the onion unmarketable.The freeze has caused a lot of distorted leaves, too, which enable diseases to invade.That can further reduce the onion quality. “It’s like adding insult to injury,”Kelley said. But he stresses to farmers the importance of selling only top-quality onions. “Thelosses from the actual freeze would be minor compared to how inferior onions would affectprices in future years,” he said.In early February, Kelley figured 90 percent losses in mustard, turnip, kale andcollard greens. Most growers decided to replant as the weather warmed back up — just intime for the next arctic blast.Kelley said greens and other winter vegetables were also damaged in the early-Marchfreeze. Some farmers who planted early and lost crops to the early February freeze hadeither retransplanted or direct-seeded second crops.The March freeze wiped out virtually all of the direct-seeded vegetables. Andretransplanted cabbage is suffering critically.Cabbages were hit hard, but not as hard as leafy greens. Kelley feels sure that many ofthe cabbage plants left are likely to bolt (produce flowers and seeds), though, instead ofproducing heads.Growers won’t know how much of the crop will bolt until a few weeks before harvest.Some farmers in the southernmost Georgia counties had already planted summervegetables, adding to the total damaged acreage.The freeze killed most of the tomatoes, peppers, squash and watermelons already infields.”Most of the very small amount that was out already was planted almost tooearly,” Kelley said. “Producers were looking to get their harvest to the marketsfirst for higher prices.”Many vegetable growers can still replant their crops. But for some greens farmers, thiswill be the third planting in their fields, adding to their costs. Their later harvest canmean losses at the market, too.Vegetables that reach the market first generally sell for higher prices. When moreproduce reaches the market later in the season, prices tend to drop.Jack Frost may nip at shoppers’ wallets, too. Prices will likely rise, since lessproduce will be available, Kelley said.It’s still early in the season, so summer crops weren’t wiped out, he said. There’sstill a long time between now and harvest to make up for these very early season losses insummer crops.”Farming is always a roll of the dice,” Kelley said. “So far thiswinter, Georgia vegetable farmers are coming up with snake eyes.”last_img