04/15/07 — Chilly week takes toll on area crops

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Chilly week takes toll on area crops

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 15, 2007 2:09 AM

With lows falling into the mid- to upper-20s during Easter weekend in both Wayne and Duplin counties, farmers and North Carolina Cooperative Extension agents have spent much of the past week assessing the damage to the counties' crops.

And while it's still early, the news is looking much better for Wayne than it is for Duplin.

"They plant earlier than we do," Wayne extension agent Kevin Johnson said. "They're a little further south and their crops are about a week ahead of us."

And while that might not seem like a lot, it proved to be the difference between a moderate loss in Wayne and a severe loss in Duplin, said Ed Emory, county extension service director.

Duplin suffered an 80 percent wheat loss, a 10 percent to 15 percent loss of grain corn, an 80 percent loss of sweet corn, a 100 percent loss of squash, string beans, green peas and tomatoes, a 20 percent loss of collards, a 40 percent to 50 percent loss of oats and rye, a 75 percent loss of pecans, a 75 percent loss of blueberries, a 10 percent loss of strawberries and a 90 percent loss of peaches, Emory said.

"This freeze was a pretty significant loss, particularly to our small grain and produce farmers," Emory said. "And anytime we have an agricultural loss, it's a severe loss to Duplin County because we are an agricultural county.

"When a farmer makes a dollar, that turns over four or five times in the county. This loss will manifest itself in (many) different businesses."

The news in Wayne, though, Johnson said, was a little bit better -- only a 10 percent loss of wheat and a 1 percent to 2 percent loss of grain corn.

The worst losses were in whatever fruit was out -- save for the strawberries, which most farmers were either able to cover or coat in a layer of insulating ice.

But other crops, particularly produce, Johnson explained, were either still in the greenhouses or not planted yet. Some also were saved by the dry weather, which, Emory said, can help limit freeze damage.

"We were fortunate the cold snap came early," Johnson said. "If it'd happened a week later, we would have been in trouble."

Not only would have more produce and grain crops been affected, but tobacco likely would have been destroyed, as well.

"Luckily, most of the tobacco was still in the greenhouses," Emory said.

In Duplin, only one farmer had transplanted his tobacco, causing him to lose his entire crop.

In Wayne, all of the tobacco is safe, but Johnson stressed it's time for farmers to begin moving the plants out of the greenhouses because of the growing threat of disease.

Other farmers, though, -- especially in Duplin County -- are now faced with decisions about what to do with their fields.

"Most of the produce can be replaced, but early produce usually comes in at a higher price, so not only do the farmers have the cost of replacing their crops, there will be more competition when they are ready so the price may be lower," Emory said.

Those experiencing small grain losses also are expected to replant, but with full-season soybeans.

Overall, though, Johnson said, the results could have been worse, but it's still going to be a while before they can fully assess the damage.

"It's going to take some time, but it wasn't that bad," he said. "If it were to happen now, it would be a problem, but it wasn't a terrible loss for (Wayne) county, even though some farmers may have experienced significant losses."