Preparations cut damages Weather will always be an issue for vegetable growers, but it has become an even greater issue the last several fall seasons. We're talking about hurricanes, of course.

Southeast growers have had ample opportunities to learn the lessons of hurricanes since 1996. It would sure be nice to get through a fall without one. However, with the arrival of peak Hurricane Season, this is an appropriate time to reflect and to look ahead.

Although it is not very comforting, the only positive thing about hurricanes is that at least you know they are coming. Which of course means you are able to make some preparations. Some of the lessons we have learned the hard way in North Carolina may serve as an alert for other growers facing similar situations.

What follows is a checklist developed by the school of hard knocks.

(1.) Spray ahead of the storm. Fungicides are mostly preventative in nature so they must be out prior to the conditions for disease spread. If growers can make applications of crop protectants prior to any storm this will give them some degree of protection until they can get back into the field for post storm sprays.

Ground application with high pressure sprayers is the best method of applying these crop protectants. Aerial application can be used if it is the only alternative, but lower volumes of spray reduce effectiveness of this method of disease management.

The modern crop protectants are relatively resistant to wash off even by heavy rain and having something there is better than nothing.

Apply crop protectants as soon as possible after the storm, since severe wind and beating rain will damage crop foliage. Often, bacterial diseases are increased after such storms. Thus, where it is cleared, and these diseases are a problem, copper sprays should be used.

(2.) All vegetable growers should make sure fields will drain freely. Sweet potato producers need to pay special attention to establishing cross drains and end of row drains to reduce potential standing water and `souring' sweet potatoes.

This is also important so that field access is not unnecessarily delayed. Fields should be inspected immediately after the storm to help drain any wet pockets.

(3.) In most instances, depending on rainfall, these storms leach many of the nutrients out of the soil profile. Thus, application of 20 to 30 pounds per acre of nitrogen is well advised for crops like cucumbers, cabbage, leafy greens and snap beans, if it is still early in the season.

Calcium nitrate is a good material for this job because of its low salt index and the extra calcium that helps repair tissues.

Broadcast applications using a rotary type spreader from truck rows offers a good way to get materials on to wet fields.

Also, if high flotation truck distributors are available they may be able to get into fields before conventional equipment.

(4.) If severe winds reach your area and the greenhouse begins to move, cut the plastic cover to allow it to blow off. This is costly and troublesome, but not nearly as bad as repairing or replacing a twisted structure.

(5.) Other general items include: Stabilize stacks of bulk bins with ropes or tie-downs, get loose items under cover, cover muffler stacks on tractors, get as much machinery under cover as possible.

(6.) Above all of these things though, hope the storm turns out to sea.

Saving vegetable crops from a direct hit is almost impossible, but the above mentioned tips should assist you in minimizing losses if you must make hurricane preparations. North Carolina's experience is that these items are most beneficial if a storm only skirts your area. Where crop damage is concerned, the first step is to evaluate the feasibility of continuing production.

We have been fortunate so far this season and hope it continues. However, with our recent year's track record, it just makes sense to be prepared.

Growers interested in learning more about vegetable and fruit production and/or precision agriculture can do so at this year's Southeast Vegetable and Fruit expo and AgTech 2000. The joint conference will take place Dec. 11-13 at the Sheraton Greensboro Hotel at Four Seasons in Greensboro, N.C.

Educational sessions on vegetables and precision agriculture, along with an extensive trade show will be held throughout the three day event.

More information about Expo/AgTech 2000 is available from Bonnie Holloman at 919-772-2204 or e-mail to bhollom@bellsouth.net.

You can access the internet at http://www.soil.ncsu.edu/agtech2000.