Published on 06/02/05

Georgia vegetables late, but in good supply

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

After a cool spring that delayed the growth of Georgia’s vegetable crop, harvest has started. Overall, the crop is plentiful and looks good, says a University of Georgia horticulturist.

From late April to early July, Georgia becomes a main source for some fresh vegetables like yellow squash, snap beans, sweet corn and peppers, said Terry Kelley, a horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Chilly weather

But Georgia’s crop is late. Cool spring temperatures slowed its growth. The average daily temperature for much of southeastern Georgia in March was 5 to 10 degrees cooler than March 2004, according to UGA’s Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network.

Temperatures have warmed in the past three weeks.

“But we’re still having periods of cool, damp conditions,” Kelley said. “And we still haven’t seen many of the regular 90- degree days and 70-degree nights.”

Georgia usually ranks third or fourth in the nation in vegetable production. California, No. 1, harvests about 50 percent of the U.S. spring vegetable crop. Florida, No. 2, harvests about 23 percent.

Florida’s vegetable crop was late, too, because of the cool spring. States north of Georgia experienced the same cool weather.

“Most of the vegetable crops around the southeast have been pretty much delayed because of cool weather,” he said.

There may be slightly fewer vegetables this spring compared to last spring, he said, but there is still an ample supply.

Consumers usually don’t see big price swings in the grocery stores, unless there is a disaster that takes out a lot of planted acres or keeps farmers from harvesting, Kelley said.

Tropical storms in September hurt last fall’s vegetable crops in Florida and Georgia. Supply was low. Prices were high for growers. And consumers saw higher prices for some vegetables like tomatoes.

Georgia farmers can usually plant two vegetable crops, one in early spring and another in late summer, because of the state’s mild, subtropical climate.

Supply good. Prices, too

Fewer vegetables this spring, Kelley said, would be a good thing for Georgia growers. Last spring’s crop was big. Farm prices were low.

Prices are good for most Georgia vegetables now. A bushel of Georgia snap beans costs about $16 at the Atlanta Wholesale Market. This time last year, a bushel was about $8.50.

A 30-lb box of yellow crookneck squash is selling for about $24 to $26 now, about twice as much as the same time last year, according to U.S. Department of Agricultural reports.

Georgia farmers have a window to harvest and sell their fresh vegetable crop. As temperatures warm in spring, vegetables begin to ripen in areas further north.

The market follows fresh vegetables. Georgia’s fresh harvest begins after Florida’s harvest, which starts in late February and early March.

On a good year, the vegetable harvest in Georgia is winding down as it begins in other states like Tennessee and North Carolina. Because the crop was delayed, however, this may not happen this spring, Kelley said.

Northern vegetables may begin to ripen now in the warm weather and begin to flood Georgia’s market window before harvest can end. This could drive prices down.

The state’s vegetable crop is worth about $900 million each year.

Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.