The 2004 vegetable season is one that will be long remembered by Georgia growers, but one they would just as soon forget. Weather was the watchword for the 2004 season. As is often the case climatological conditions had a major impact on the season.
The spring season produced a myriad of conditions ranging from dry to wet and cold to hot. While the early spring was dry, frequent rains in June jeopardized the crops during the critical harvest periods. The late rains did not cause insurmountable problems, but many vegetables were just another shower away from certain disaster.
Spring temperatures did not settle into a normal pattern until late in April. Cool nights delayed crop growth for many of the early plantings. Vegetable growers depend on normal weather patterns to keep market windows in order.
Crops that mature too early will overlap with the Florida market and crops that mature later will overlap with the Carolina's market windows. The cool night temperatures did the latter as crops such as cucumbers, squash, bell pepper, watermelons and cantaloupes were maturing at the same time from Florida all the way to Delaware.
The result was acre upon acre of beautiful crops that were selling for rock bottom prices. The watermelon market in particular was particularly devastating — lots of excellent quality melons at less than break-even prices. The net result for growers overall in the spring was great quality, great yields and extremely poor prices.
The second crop which is usually planted in July suffered as well. Squash, peppers, cucumbers, snap beans, tomatoes and eggplant are common second season crops. Unfortunately, hurricane season begins at about the same time. Obviously, this was a very active hurricane season and parts of Georgia took a hit from five different storms.
Although much attention was given to other areas that suffered from the hurricanes, Bonnie, Charley, Francis, Ivan and Jeanne all had something to say about the fall vegetable season. While neither storm was by itself disastrous, they all had a cumulative effect on the crops. Many crops took severe beatings from high winds and heavy rains as they were being established. Successive storms compounded the damage and twisted and broke squash, pepper and tomato plants. The wet conditions also compounded disease problems.
The net result was extremely low yields for the fall crops. Some pepper and tomato crops were no more than 10 percent of a normal harvest. Squash and cucumber crops were as much as 50 percent lost in some cases. Recent prices have reflected the shortage of produce. Prices have been at almost historically high levels, but few people have anything to sell.
Those that were able to survive the storms and salvage even half a crop will probably come out ahead. Those that lost almost everything will fall farther behind after a bad spring. Growers generally count on making enough profit on one of the two seasons to end up with a decent year.
However, for some growers, the 2004 season will end up with costs far outpacing returns. Hopefully, 2005 can make Georgia growers soon forget the season of 2004.