By Ashley Robinson
South Georgia farmers have been on edge as weather and impacts from the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) have taken a toll on their crops.
“2020 has been a tough year overall for our growers,” says Andre da Silva, University of Georgia (UGA) Cooperative Extension vegetable specialist.
South Georgia farmers have had their fair share of difficulties over the last few years. Hurricane Michael hit Georgia in 2018 causing $2.5 billion in crop damage, and 2019 brought Chinese tariffs that damaged trade and prices. Now, farmers are facing even more devastating impacts with COVID-19.
According to da Silva, some growers have had to leave their ready-to-harvest produce sitting in the field.
“Farmers weren’t able to get enough labor to harvest their crop or they weren’t able to sell their produce because there wasn’t a market to sell to. A lot of our farmers sell to restaurants and schools, so they saw the greatest impact once everything shut down. Our sweet corn growers’ biggest markets were schools, so when schools completely shut down due to COVID-19, they were greatly affected,” da Silva says.
Unusual Weather Impacting Crops
In addition to seeing impacts from COVID-19, Georgia has endured unusual weather this Spring.
“We had very warm conditions in March, but the past three or four weeks we have had some impacts from the cold front. We’ve had nighttime temperatures of 47 to 49 degrees F, which isn’t good, especially for our watermelon growers,” da Silva says.
According to da Silva, watermelon growers planted their crop at the end of March or early April, thinking the crop would do fine because of the higher temperatures. However, when the cold front arrived, the cool nighttime temperatures didn’t allow plants to bloom. While plants should be blooming and fruit should be setting right now to target the 4th of July market, this isn’t the case.
“Watermelons are tough plants though. With warmer temperatures ahead, they will make a comeback. But I do predict that watermelon harvest will be delayed about a week or two this year because of the cold temperatures we received,” da Silva says.
In addition to uncommon temperatures, South Georgia has experienced other unfavorable weather events.
South Georgia has endured two tornadoes this spring. One of which crossed through the middle of a UGA Extension trial evaluating cabbage varieties. It caused significant damage. Additionally, they’ve also experienced a lot of rain accompanied by wind that has damaged crops.
“We’ve also seen a lot of damage from sand blasting, cracking the plant’s leaf, leaving openings for diseases to enter. Also, the rainfall accumulation induced nutrient leaching, so growers have had to bump up their fertility program to reduce the impact on yield,” says da Silva.