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Weather hampers vegetable growth
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- South Mississippi's growers and fresh-produce consumers will share the disappointment of growth delays for the 2003 vegetable crop.
David Nagel, horticulture specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said a late spring freeze and excessive rains have worked against early-planted vegetables, primarily below Interstate 20.
"We haven't lost a crop, we've just lost time," Nagel said. "Growers try to plant early so they can be among the first to take their produce to market. Consumers are willing to pay more when there are fewer vegetables available. This year, growers lost that early jump to get into the more lucrative market."
Growers have been hit by a double whammy from the weather, first from a harsh freeze the last weekend in March and second by excessive rains that are delaying growth.
"The recent rains are having more of a negative effect than the late freeze. The freeze slowed growth and may have delayed harvest seven to 10 days, and wet fields could delay some planting opportunities another 10 days. In some cases, plants could drown," Nagel said.
For Allen Eubanks of Lucedale, the harsh freeze took about 25 percent of his commercial snap beans, and slowed growth on the rest. With a month's growth on his snap beans, Eubanks said he'd probably replant with squash or cucumbers.
"It's not unusual to have some light frosts earlier in March, but that freeze was much worse, especially that late in the month," Eubanks said.
Other damaged crops included watermelons, tomatoes and peppers. Eubanks replanted about 5 percent or less of the watermelons and 10 to 20 percent of the tomatoes.
Mike Steede, Extension director in George County, said about 90 percent of the county's 2,000 acres of commercial vegetables are irrigated, but growers have no way to stop nature's water.
"Vegetable producers love dry weather. The drier the weather, the less disease pressure, and with drip irrigation, growers can put the water to the plants when needed," Steede said. "Unfortunately, they can't turn off the rain. Growers will be looking for more diseases in the coming weeks and are encouraged to treat before outbreaks become severe."
Steede said too much rain means strawberries may not be as sweet, but he described this year's berries as good in spite of the rains in February. Commercial berries are grown on plastic mulch to reduce contact with soil and reduce disease problems.
The next challenge is excessive water from April showers. In the middle of strawberry harvest, the rains may have damaged 10 to 15 percent of Eubanks' crop. Producers in George County have 60 to 80 acres of commercial strawberries.