Guest Author - Sue Walsh
While most farmers welcome rain for their crops, farmers in the South are finding their crops in ruin thanks to an overly wet summer. Fields are swamped, fungal diseases like blight are rampant, and even crops that have survived the flooding rains are producing poor quality fruits. For example Georgia’s famous peaches, while large and delicious looking, are flavorless due to the extreme moisture deleting their sugar content. Tomatoes are splitting on the vine, corn is being destroyed by mold, and watermelons are rotting on the vine in fields too flooded to be harvested.
“With fruit and vegetables, you’ve got to hand-harvest it when it’s ready,” Charles Hall of the Georgia Watermelon Association told the New York Times. “If you can’t get to it, you lose it.”
Another crop, less crucial but one of the most lucrative in the U.S. is also suffering. Farmers are reporting that tobacco crops are being ruined by the heavy rains, potentially costing them thousands of dollars. With smoking becoming more and more socially unacceptable and an increase in smoking bans in public places, the market for tobacco has become uncertain in recent years. Rain damaged crops may only add to that uncertainty.
"This is the most widespread and significant amount of damage I've seen from a single event like this," said Bob Pearce, a University of Kentucky burley tobacco extension specialist speaking to the Times. "The number of (damage) reports that I'm getting is kind of unprecedented. It's been a game-changer."
The southern United States, which faced a scorching drought last year, has been deluged by rain this summer. Georgia’s rainfall is 34% above normal while the Carolinas are 25% above normal and Alabama is 22% above. Farmers are hoping their fields dry out before the lucrative peanut and pecan harvests this fall, but it doesn’t look good.
Jake Crouch, a climatologist at the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. told the New York Times,“Whenever we get in a pattern like this, we kind of stay in the status quo, When we’re hot and dry, we stay hot and dry. When we’re wet, we stay wet.”
What does this mean for your local grocery store? Farmers say their increased costs will not be passed on to consumers, but if stores can’t get local produce to fill their shelves they’ll import from other parts of the country or even from other countries, leading to higher prices for all of us.