What is in this article?:
- Labor, weather and new pests slowing fruit, vegetable growth in Southeast
- Consider foreign labor unskilled
- Major problems
• Labor shortages, unstable weather patterns and the introduction of new insect pests are major roadblocks to overcome in Southeast vegetable acreage expansion.
LABOR UNCERTAINTIES are a factor in vegetable production growth in the Southeast, says Clemson Extension Specialist Powell Smith.
Consider foreign labor unskilled
He also points out that most people outside of agriculture consider foreign labor, whether they be from Mexico or Guatemala or even farther away places, like Haiti, to be unskilled. Yet, if you look at time and motion studies done with migrant labor, you will find these people are highly skilled at what they do, he adds.
“Another misconception is that we can just take people out of prison or off welfare rolls and put them to work doing this on-farm, unskilled labor. That just won’t work, because the forced labor doesn’t want to work, and they don’t have the skills necessary to be efficient in on-farm labor.
“For most South Carolina vegetable and fruit growers the Federal H-2A program isn’t feasible. Smaller acreage operations, growing seasonal crops are just not set up to handle all the guidelines set forth in H-2A programs. Plus, the cost isn’t feasible in most small operations,” Smith says.
“When you add to the mix a series of truly unpredictable weather patterns over the past few years, it just heightens the other production problems we see in fruit and vegetable production.
“And, weather plays a significant role in limiting the expansion we would like to see in fruit and vegetable production in South Carolina and throughout the Southeast,” he adds.
For example, last year March was warmer than May. Though the drought situation as a whole has not been as severe as the past two years in the Midwest and Southwest, drought periods at the wrong time in vegetable production is a real limiting factor in production, as it is in all agricultural crops.
“This year we had collardsbolting in late February —t hat’s earlier than anyone that I know has ever seen that.
“Typically, we see collards in South Carolina bolt in March. When you have a crop that matures early you tend to have more production problems and often there is no market for these early maturing vegetables,” the Clemson Specialist says.
Labor problems in agriculture are not new and weather has plagued farming since the first crop was planted centuries ago.
The third limiting factor in the growth of the fruit and vegetable industry in the Southeast in general and South Carolina in particular is not old, but may be even more challenging to manage.
The introduction into the Southeast over the past few years of new insect pests from countries thousands of miles away are playing havoc with production and are clearly a consideration when a grower thinks about expanding production, much less when a new grower tries to determine whether he or she should get into the fruit and vegetable business.
The kudzu bug and the brown marmorated stink bug have gotten a lot of attention in the farm and public media in recent years.