Wet Weather in South Hurting Crops But Not Prices

By , AccuWeather.com Senior Meteorologist
August 8, 2013; 9:07 AM ET
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Round after round of drenching downpours have not only saturated the soil from parts of Missouri to the Carolinas and Florida, but conditions may also be too wet for some crops.

So far, however, the impact on national fruit and vegetable prices from the wet weather in the South is likely to carry little weight.

More rain is forecast from eastern parts of the central Plains and the middle Mississippi Valley to the interior South and southern mid-Atlantic through much of August.

Wet soil conditions are making it difficult for some farmers to get into the fields and are causing some vegetables to rot. Excess rain is raising concerns about mold and fungus causing damage, especially in vine crops or those that have fruit close to or in the ground.

Ongoing heavy rainfall may also make it difficult for some farmers to get a second crop in across parts of the South.

Frequent rainfall is washing off some insecticides, reducing the effectiveness of insecticides or preventing spraying in some cases. There can be more bugs and blemishes in the fruit as a result.

As far as impact on consumers nationwide, despite the excessive wet conditions in the South, the supply of most fruits and vegetables should be plentiful this summer and into the fall.

According to Economist Richard Volpe, Ph.D., in the USDA's Economic Research Division, "It is too soon to gauge exactly what the impact of problems in the Southeast U.S. will have nationally on food prices as we have to wait until the growing season is over."

Volpe explained that problems with growing conditions in a particular region are more likely to have impact on prices on a local or regional basis, rather than a national basis.

"The big producers of fresh and processed summer fruits and vegetables for U.S. are California, Arizona and Mexico," Volpe stated, "Problems in these areas tend to have more clout from consumer pricing, than in the Southeast U.S."

Persistent wet weather in the Southeast and neighboring areas of other regions will impact the size and taste of the fruit and vegetables grown there.

Summer fruit, such as peaches, watermelons and tomatoes, will absorb a great deal of water and will be quite juicy. However, taste may be lacking from fruits and vegetables in the Southeast, due to the amount of water and lack of sunshine.

The same is true for fall fruits farther north, such as apples and grapes, where rainfall has been excessive and/or sunshine was limited. On a positive note, pumpkins that survived the wet weather could be huge.

According to Agricultural Weather Expert Dale Mohler, "Most crops need that reasonable balance between sunshine, warmth and rainfall. Every type of fruit and vegetable has its particulars, but for most crops, too much of one thing can cut yields and diminish the taste."

Sunshine helps to build sugar content in many fruits and vegetables, boosting taste.

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One thing to watch toward harvest time is drying conditions. Crops such as soybeans, corn and hay that are harvested before they thoroughly dry are more subject to mold.

In areas where the soil is dry enough to get into the fields to cut hay, it has to dry before being bailed and stored. If not, spontaneous combustion can occur.

"In portions of the northern Plains and Upper Midwest, we will also be watching for an early season frost," Mohler said.

While many of these areas have not had the wet conditions of areas farther south, cooler weather has many crops in the region maturing slower than average this season and much behind last year's pace.

Mohler stated areas from northern Plains to parts of the Midwest could actually use some rain with higher temperatures to help crops reach maturity.

Looking ahead, the pattern of frequent rain will continue during much of August from portions of the central Plains to the Southeast along the boundary of hot air and cool air.

While the number of rainfall events may diminish in some areas that were hit hard during the spring and summer, lengthening nights and lowering sun angle will lead to lower evaporation rates. As a result, soil and crop conditions in some areas may remain soggy.

From portions of Texas and the central High Plains westward to California, the problem has been drought. Much of this area is likely to remain abnormally dry through the end of the summer. Irrigation is a key player for agriculture in these areas.

During July, the USDA's Consumer Price Index was projecting fruit and vegetable prices to rise an average of 2 to 3 percent through the end of 2013.

Volpe stated that while some of this has to do with last year's weather conditions, it also has more to do with prices in general coming off "rock bottom lows" from last year.

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