Farmers battle heat

Farm workers work in the extreme heat Friday in Sampson County.

Some crops throughout Sampson County are being damaged by the hot weather, including cucumbers.

Holding a cucumber up and examining it, Tony Wilson notices a couple of blisters and yellow spots on the vegetable grown at his family farm. Under the hot sun, Wilson wipes perspiration and talks about how the heat is impacting his crops, stressing how the cuke in his hand is not supposed to look that way.

“It’ll curtail the crop and shorten it up,” Wilson said about the heat’s devastation on vegetable crops at Tri-W Farms.

The damaged cucumber is just one in an abundance of healthy and ripe cucumbers at the facility. But if the scorching weather persists, it may become a problem for farmers such as Wilson who are growing summer crops.

This week, temperatures have hung around the upper 90s, reaching 100 and above on some days, with humidity high and rain sparse, and that has wreaked havoc on some Sampson crops.

It’s something Allan Thornton of the local NC Cooperative Extension Office tries to help farmers with when it comes to crops such as cucumbers, squash and peppers. As an extension associate, Thornton conducts extension and applied research programs for commercial vegetable and fruit growers in the area. With temperatures in the 100s, Thornton stressed how the weather can be a burden on plants, regardless of different growing stages.

“This kind of heat just absolutely shuts that plant down,” Thornton said about production, indicating how plants such a cucumbers and squash depend on bees to help pollinate.

“The bees are not working effectively,” he said. “It can get hot enough where the pollen is not viable.”

In addition, a mixture of heat and the humidity is draining the moisture out of the soil very quickly.

“Even if you’re able to irrigate, that’s still not quite the same as getting the rainfall,” the extension agent stressed.

For Thornton, it’s something he’s familiar with.

“It’s been hard trying to keep up with the water situation,” Wilson said about dry conditions.

In the fields, water and re-hydration is important for the workers who begin early in the morning and carry on throughout the afternoon. “It’s been hot,” he said, noting that the heat takes a toll on the crops and those in the field working. “They manage it with breaks and good ,cool water. Staying in the heat day after day can be tough, though.”

Vegetables such as cabbage and sweet potatoes may also be effected if the temperatures don’t decrease.

“Unless a guy has a field with some really good moisture, we’re on the verge of having to slow down a little bit on the planting,” Thornton said. “I know there’s a few growers who stopped planting early in the morning. They’re only planting from 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon until it’s dark.”

If the heat continues, Thornton indicated how growing stages of corn and sweet corn will be harmed by the weather. Tobacco is in the same boat with some of the other crops. Yet across the board, Thornton said the county received a lot of rain before the summer season, which put farmers behind. During the process, there were some places where crops drowned because of heavy rains.

“As a result of all the moisture we had early, none of these crops really have the kind of root system they should have,” Thornton pointed out. “Mostly everything is shallow rooted.”

He compared the conditions to turning on a light switch. “We want from having a lot or adequate water to being on the dry side,” Thornton said. “We want from being 88 to 90 degrees to being 99 or 100 degrees. These crops just don’t have the root system under them to tolerate that very well. So right now, we’re in a holding pattern on what the crops are doing. They’re not able to grow a lot under the stress they’re under right now.”

Thornton suggested that farmers try to maintain proper moisture levels when it comes to irrigation and to stay out of crops when it comes to cultivation if the field is already dry.

“Beyond that, there’s really not a whole lot that a grower can do other than waiting for the temperatures to reduce and getting a shot of rain,” Thornton said. “We should be in the low 90s for this time of year.”

Currently, the financial impact is unknown, but if the hot weather continues, Thornton believes farmers, collectively, may take a 25 percent hit.

“I think it’s a little early to know where we’re going to end up,” he said referring to the approximate losses.

Along with other farmers, it’s a challenge Tri-W Farms is confident about overcoming.

“The market has been decent for us so far and the yields have been better than we thought,” he said. “We just thank the Lord for what we got.”