What is in this article?:
- Vegetable growers fighting pigweed, other problems
- Hand weeding
• Some fall cucumbers and sweet potato plants were beaten down.
• Growers with no irrigation really struggled this year.
Pigweed is an enormous problem in vegetable crops in southeast North Carolina.
THE PIGWEED grows tall in this field of collards in Kenly, N.C.
For now, pulling it up by hand is the main control method. But that can be a problem in dry weather.
“If pigweed gets a little bit of growth, you can’t get it out of dry ground,” he said. “We may have to go to machetes, but you would have to cut close to the ground.”
James Sharp, a fruit and vegetable grower in Kenly, N.C., said Irene’s winds worked his crops over good where he farms in Wilson County. But they survived fairly well.
“We have had a good season so far. Dry weather and irrigation has led to a good crop. The crops we grow do well in hot, dry weather.”
One strong vegetable crop for Sharp has been collards. “They are very healthy and appeal to the health-conscious consumer. We plant in March and April and harvest until Christmas.”
He harvests collards by hand. “It includes a lot of stoop labor,” he said. “The harvest worker has to select the leaves that are ready. It is like a tobacco plant. You harvest from bottom to top.”
Sharp’s other fruit and vegetable crops are strawberries, lettuce, watermelon and sprite melons
The heat was brutal in North Carolina early in the summer, and it caused problems with fruit set, said Chris Gunter, North Carolina Extension specialist for the commercial vegetable industry.
“The middle sets were often lost, especially in the Piedmont.”
By Sept. 1, the heat had eased off, he said.
But Irene changed the face of things. “Many trellis crops like tomatoes were blown over by the winds, and it is virtually impossible in that case to pick them back up and expect them to survive.”
Some 3,000 to 4,000 acres of tomatoes in Virginia's Eastern Shore were partially flattened and swamped, said Steve Sturgis a Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services board member.
"The damage could adversely affect supply, because the Florida crop is not ready yet," he said.
Three commercial growers suffered losses. "These tomatoes are grown on stakes sticking five, six feet into the air," Sturgis said. "So you can imagine, you've got these walls of tomatoes, and when the wind comes and pushes on the wall, it just snaps those stakes off."
Because many of the North Carolina fields were flooded, there are now food safety issues about crops harvested from them.
“Growers are really concerned about this,” Gunter said. “Not just microbial contaminants, but also toxic substances that might have washed in.”