Vegetable scientists make expertise available online |

Vegetable growers mystified by something going wrong with their crops can take the first step toward solving the problem by consulting a website managed by scientists at the Northwest’s three land-grant universities.

Take, for example, carrots. If they have new leaves that are small and yellow and have purple or reddish older leaves and their roots are deformed and developing dense tufts of hair-like rootlets, a grower can track down the cause online.

Growers can go to the online photo gallery of the Pacific Northwest Vegetable Extension Group, click on “carrot” and scan the images to find a photo that matches the symptoms.

That image depicts an infection of phytoplasma and spiroplasma such as “Aster yellows” phytoplasma, transmitted by the beet leafhopper. The search also points to a link for more extensive information, including recommended control methods.

The website collects observations and research by pathologists, entomologists and horticulturists from Washington State University, Oregon State University and the University of Idaho.

Lindsey du Toit, a vegetable seed pathologist with WSU Extension and co-leader of the team, said the effort started in 2000, purely focused on diseases, but organizers found they needed to have a more coordinated network of people with expertise in insects, nematodes, fungi, parasites, weeds and abiotic damage.

“We’re filling a gap,” she said. “There are so many vegetable crops grown in the Northwest, and there are no other resources for specialists to network.

“We get requests from all over the world, but we focus on this region. If we get beyond the Pacific Northwest, it would dilute what we’re doing. Climate is critical.”

Debra Inglis, a vegetable pathologist at WSU’s extension and research center in Mount Vernon, had the original vision and got the funding. Now Inglis, du Toit and horticulturist Carol Miles lead the effort, which has grown from eight members to 25.

In monthly conference calls, the group discusses what more research can be included and to discuss what the educational needs are.

Conferences continue primarily through the growing season “to keep us abreast of what’s in the ground,” du Toit said.

“It’s out there for the public to be used,” du Toit said. “It’s created not to be a burden to ourselves, not to keep us more busy, but to be more effective.

She called the gallery a work in progress, and some vegetables and their problems still need to be represented.

“There are new diseases, new cultivars — we’re always learning,” she said. “The website is far from perfect, but it’s becoming more and more complete. It’s getting to where it needs to be.”



With Too Much Rain in the South, Too Little Produce on the Shelves –

With Too Much Rain in the South, Too Little Produce on the Shelves

FORT VALLEY, Ga. — Peaches, the gem of the Southern summer, are just not so sweet this year.

The tomatoes in Tennessee are splitting. Tobacco in North Carolina is drowning. And watermelons, which seem as if they would like all the rain that has soaked the South, have taken perhaps the biggest hit of all.

Some watermelon farmers in South Georgia say they have lost half their crop. The melons that did survive are not anywhere as good as a Southern watermelon ought to be.

“They are awful,” said Daisha Frost, 39, who works in Decatur, Ga. “And this is the time of year when they should be the bomb.”

Day after day, the rains have come to a part of the country that relies on the hot summer sun for everything from backyard tomato sandwiches to billions of dollars in commercial row crops, fruit and peanuts.

While the contiguous United States as a whole is about only 6 percent above its normal rainfall this year, Southern states are swamped. Through June, Georgia was 34 percent above normal, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center. Both South Carolina and North Carolina were about 25 percent above normal. Alabama’s rainfall was up 22 percent.

The weather is a particular shock because more than two-thirds of the region was abnormally dry or suffering a drought last year.

Although the total cost to farmers has yet to be tallied, agricultural officials in several states in the Deep South predict severe losses this year that could be in the billions of dollars.

“Nobody’s ever seen it this wet this long,” said Randy Ellis, a Georgia farmer who grows wheat and watermelons, the latter of which end up at East Coast grocery stores.

He usually pulls about 60,000 pounds of melons from an acre of land. This year, he said, he barely got 30,000 pounds. What is worse, the cooler, rainy weather meant the crop was ready after the important Fourth of July window, when prices are at their peak.

Standing water has made cornfields look like rice paddies in some parts of the rural South. Mold is growing on ears of corn, and in some fields entire stalks have toppled. Late blight, a funguslike pathogen, is creeping into tomato fields early and with unusual vigor.

Even though the Georgia pecan crop will not be harvested until fall, there are already worries that the rain will bring on a rash of the fungus commonly called scab disease. Experts are predicting that the crop could be about 15 million pounds lower this year.

There are a few pluses. Irrigation costs are down, and the rain has been surprisingly good for the look of Georgia peaches.

Here in the part of central Georgia where Duke Lane Jr. grows 30 varieties on about 10,000 acres, his fields have already taken on as much water to date as they usually do in an entire year.

“This is something that has never been on our radar,” he said.

Still, the peaches are bigger than usual and shaped perfectly. He had a single peach on his desk that weighed more than a pound.

But even though those peaches look good, the water has diluted the sugar content.

“The flavor is just not there,” said Doris Westmoreland, who works at Lane Southern Orchards. “It’s like having a mouthful of cotton.”

The rain is doing more than compromising quality and bringing on disease. Some fields are so wet that farmers have not been able to get equipment into the fields to harvest.

“With fruit and vegetables, you’ve got to hand-harvest it when it’s ready,” said Charles Hall of the Georgia Watermelon Association. “If you can’t get to it, you lose it.”

Some farmers report wheat sprouting before it can be harvested, and peanut farmers in Alabama, who rely on heavy applications of chemicals, have missed crucial application windows because fields have been too wet to navigate, said Randy Griggs, the executive director of the Alabama Peanut Producers Association.

Peanut harvest usually begins in late August and runs into September, so there is hope that fields might dry out by then.

But Jake Crouch, a climatologist at the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., is not hopeful.

“Whenever we get in a pattern like this, we kind of stay in the status quo,” he said. “When we’re hot and dry, we stay hot and dry. When we’re wet, we stay wet.”


Spud growers reduce acreage on heels of big crop, low prices |

Potato growers in the Northwest and throughout the U.S. have significantly reduced their acreage this season following a 2012 crop marked by overproduction and low prices, according to a USDA report released June 28.

Furthermore, potatoes prices have risen sharply during the past two weeks.

Idaho grower’s reduced their crop from 345,000 acres in 2012 to 317,000 this season. Growers in Washington cut their crop from 165,000 acres in 2012 to 160,000 acres this season, and Oregon growers, 42,000 acres in 2012, planted 40,000 acres this season. California growers increased slightly from 8,800 acres in 20123 to 9,000 acres in 2012.

Nationally, the fall potato crop was reduced from 1,001,700 acres in 2012 to 957,400 acres this season.

Dan Hargraves, executive director of Southern Idaho Potato Cooperative, said the reduction was 5,000 to 10,000 acres greater than he anticipated. He’s confident that data in the National Agricultural Statistics Service is accurate because it utilizes physical acreage counts of every Idaho field, as well as in other major potato production areas, conducted by United Potato Growers of America.

“I think (Idaho) growers did the right thing. Not only did they take out what the increase was last year, but they took out another 5,000 acres on top of that,” Hargraves said.

Growers also recently received news about inventories of the 2012 crop. Prices of 10-pound bags of medium-sized Idaho potatoes, which were mostly $3.50 to $4 at the start of June, are now mostly $6.50 to $7.50, according to USDA’s Market News Service.

“I think it really blew everyone away,” Hargraves said of the price increase. “It shows it was unwarranted to sell that crop at that low of a price. The market has finally recognized the true stocks on hand, and that’s represented in the price increase.”

Hargraves said this year’s crop of spuds appears to be in excellent condition and on track to have high quality.