Observations After the Hurricane

Gordon Johnson, Extension Vegetable & Fruit Specialist; gcjohn@udel.edu

Hurricane Irene caused less damage than expected in the region. However, there were still significant impacts on crops in Delaware. The most obvious is lodging in field corn. On the vegetable side, lodging in sweet corn varied considerably from field to field, with many escaping damage.

High winds had the potential to batter many vegetables. The largest acreage currently in the field is lima beans and looking at many fields, they weathered the storm well with minimal pod drop and foliage damage. Cucurbit fields (watermelons, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins) were much more variable with significant foliage damage in many fields. Tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants also suffered considerable damage.

Peach and apple growers had considerable fruit drop and bruising of fruits due to wind and branch contact that will reduce marketable volumes.

Rainfall totals ranged from 6 to 14 inches depending on the site but flooding was much more limited than expected. However, wet fields have led to disease issues and quality problems in snap beans, tomatoes, pickles, and other crops with increases diseases such as white mold and Phytophthora. In pickles, excess soil makes washing much more difficult and has increased fruit rots. Excess water has caused severe cracking in tomatoes and cantaloupes with much of the late summer crop ruined.

The storm has affected later watermelons to a great degree. In 2010, because of the dry year, farmers were able to keep vines healthy and continue cropping past Labor Day in many fields. Later planted fields yielded well. This year, because of the extra heat stress in July and early August followed by Irene and the current cold night temperatures, vine health has declined greatly in many fields and growth has slowed, limiting late yields. Excess water has increased water-soaking in some varieties. Later plantings that were wind damaged by Irene have open canopies causing bleaching in some fields. Volumes are down, quality has suffered, and some buyers have left the region.

While it could have been worse, Irene has cost vegetable and fruit growers significant economic losses in the region.