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Local crops 'look fairly good' despite unusually high temps

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Local crops 'look fairly good' despite unusually high temps

Cole Lott, 11, holds up a freshly harvest bell pepper at his family's produce farm on Harville Road.

    If it weren't for irrigation, most of us wouldn't be able to put fresh squash, tomatoes and other summer produce on the table. And even in today's world of pumping water to the plants, the threat of bacterial wilt and white mold hangs over farmers' heads.
    But in spite of unusually high temperatures this early in the season and a drought just a hair's breadth away, local produce growers have been bringing in the veggies to share with hungry customers.
    Irrigation drives up the cost of raising produce, said Harold Cannon, who owns a produce farm on Joe Hodges Road.
    His Super Sweet corn crop relies heavily on irrigation from his pond. "It costs so much more to irrigate," he said, "using diesel and electricity."
    But the water pumped to his butter beans, peas, cucumbers, squash, okra and other vegetables makes all the difference.
    If not for  the irrigation, the crops would not produce and likely would die, since the rainfall for the area has not been adequate.
    Sometimes the heat alone can damage crops, even when  they are irrigated, but "it doesn't look like they're hurt," he said. "The crops look fairly good."
    Margaret Crosby, who helps with Cole's Produce on Harville Road, said the heat put an end to their sweet corn. Buck "Junior" Lott's 11-year-old son Cole handles the garden work, with help from Crosby and his family, and they irrigate the crops at night, she said.
    But even that couldn't stop the heat from affecting the early corn crop, she said. "It was a good crop, but it's at the end."
    But so far the temperatures into the triple digits some days hasn't scorched the peas, butter beans, and other crops currently ready to harvest. Tomatoes , watermelons, cantaloupes and other upcoming garden delights will continue to thrive under irrigation, but rain would be nice, she said.
    Cole's Produce irrigates at night so water on the plants in the heat of the day won't burn the plants. Watering during the day "is just going to cook" the plants, she said.
    Lloyd Strickland of Strickland Farms is just getting ready to harvest his sweet corn crop, planted at varying times to stagger the crop's readiness. He was out in the fields Wednesday repairing irrigation systems so the crops wouldn't suffer without water.
    "We're just getting started," he said about his corn crop. "We'll have six more weeks of corn."
    He uses trickle irrigation for other crops such as melons, cucumbers and squash, beating the drought although at added expense. But nature has more challenges in its bag of tricks; white mold and bacterial wilt.
    'We found white mold in our watermelons," he said, adding that he had never before experienced white mold in anything but peanuts. Half his plants died from the white mold, cutting his future watermelon yield.
    Bulloch County Agent Pat Todd said white mold, a fungi, and bacterial wilt, a soil-based disease, " are worse when temperatures get above 95 degrees. Then it kicks into high gear."
    But the diseases only affect vegetables this time of year. Other crops affected in different stages are cotton and peanuts, he said.
    But even if the temperatures cooled and rain fell across the county, farmers would still face challenges, he said. "When it gets cool and damp, the bacterial wilt kicks in then, too."
    But overall, the produce crops in Bulloch County have fared well with irrigation opportunities, he said. However drought is just a few days away if rain doesn't come.
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