Rising input costs are the bitter fruit facing local fruit and vegetable farmers for the 2022 growing season.
“The rising prices of inputs from fertilizer to crop protection materials are of significant concern to all growers for this season,” Clemson Extension Horticultural Agent for Bamberg, Barnwell, Allendale and Hampton counties Rob Last said. “Due to supply and distribution issues, certain products are over three times the cost of last year.”
Last said he hopes COVID-induced market impacts will want.
“As the number of infections decline, internal US transport and distribution issues may potentially reduce,” Last said. “The same cannot necessarily be said for imported materials.”
Beyond the unique challenges facing growers in 2022, there are the perennial challenges as well.
“Every year there are challenges to production, such as the loss of chlorpyrifos for insect management,” Last said. “Growers are responding to the loss of the active ingredient through adjustments to product selection.”
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Clemson Extension Commercial Horticulture Agent for Orangeburg and Calhoun counties Phillip Carnley said disease management will also be a concern in 2022.
One for strawberry farmers is the emergence of the pathogen Neopestalotiopsis or “Neopest” for short.
“This pathogen is very aggressive and can cause damage to both fruit and the plants rendering them unmarketable,” Carnley said. “Currently, growers are urged to practice proper sanitation of equipment and personnel.”
Carnley said a number of chemicals have shown to reduce the severity of the pathogen and its impact.
These include: Omega 500F, Bravo Weather Stik, Thiram SC, Switch 62.5WG rotated with Thiram SC, Thiram SC + Captan Gold 4L, Rhyme, Tilt and Inspire.
Cucumber growers could also see disease issues such as Cucurbit Downey Mildew.
“This pathogen played a large role in yield loss and an increase in fungicide applications,” Carnley said. “This pathogen is easier managed than ‘Neopest’ but was exacerbated last year due to our cloudy wet field conditions.”
Labor will also be an issue.
Growers will continue to use H2A labor, though labor issues could remain a concern, Last said.
The H-2A program allows employers to hire foreign workers on a temporary basis to fill positions for agricultural work for which domestic labor cannot be found.
Carnley said labor issues could be slightly improved from last year.
“COVID, is again expected to play a larger role in availability of labor this season, much like last year,” he said. “With the lack of labor across all channels of commerce, input costs have risen as well, resulting in tighter profit margins.”
Another issue facing growers is changes to agricultural tax exemptions this year.
“Growers will need to apply for a SCATE (South Carolina Agricultural Tax Exemption) card,” Last said. “It is straightforward but needs to be done by July 1.”
Last noted the SC Department of Agriculture website has more information, and applications can be done through the department’s website.
Madison Turnblad of St. Matthews-based Edisto Blueberries plans to grow about 1-1/2 acres of strawberries and about three acres of blueberries at the U-pick operation at 192 Longview Road off US 176. The business also has cut flowers and honey.
“We have had a real warm late fall and early winter with sustained cold, and then it got warm again,” Turnblad said. “The erratic winter weather has pushed the crop ahead of schedule.”
Turnblad said he is hoping to have availability by the middle to late March though concerns are that the area is far from done with below freezing temperatures.
Thus far in 2022, Turnblad said the weather has been the biggest hurdle.
“We have not quite the vegetative development we wanted in some but I think we will have an OK crop,” Turnblad said. “I think we built a pretty good market last year. I am excited about this season.”
Turnblad said he is hoping to get a satellite selling location in the Orangeburg area.
Turnblad also said of note this year will be the honey grown from bee hives on the farm.
“They were pollinated by the blueberries and strawberries,” Turnblad said.
Turnblad also grows peanuts, cotton and corn with his father-in-law, Monty Rast.
Here is an overview of planting projections for fruits and vegetables in The T&D Region.
Carnley says he projects fruit and vegetable plantings generally to be on the rise as compared to 2021.
Last said watermelon production is expected to decrease by about 5% in the county.
“Growers are talking about reducing the area and maximizing production on the area left,” Last said. “The goal is to mitigate some of the rising input and labor cost risks. Overall production volumes will likely remain very similar.”
Local acreage of watermelons in Bamberg County increased by 2% in 2021.
Watermelon production in 2021 was variable, with some early plantings hit by chill injury. The crop quality was excellent, with good sugar contents and size.
Markets were depressed in 2021, with additional plantings in Florida and Georgia having a negative impact.
Last said he expects to see cucumber acreage increase in the county by about 5% to 10% from last year. In 2021, about 200 acres of the crop were planted.
“Pickling cucumbers are moving back into the area for two reasons — improved varieties and availability of water,” Last said. “Many growers I work with are looking to diversify their enterprises where they have irrigation to form a more sustainable and resilient business.”
“I believe that the increase is due to demand and the hard growing year last year,” Carnley said.
Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries
Last said strawberry and blackberry production should be similar in Bamberg County as it was a year ago.
Blueberries could change, with acreage increasing slightly in 2022.
This is “thanks to market demand and diversification of business models,” Last said.
Last year, between 3 to 5 acres of strawberries and blueberries were grown — all U-pick.
In 2021, the strawberry season was condensed based on temperature variability while blueberries saw good yields despite some late frosts.
Last said there were initially concerns about this year’s peach crop.
“Early in the winter, particularly around the Christmas period, there was a concern about not accumulating sufficient chill hours,” Last said. “Chill hour accumulation is critical for switching from vegetative growth to flower production.”
“We have achieved sufficient chill hours following a cold January to trigger flowering,” Last said. “Interestingly in winter 2020-21 most chill hours accumulated before Christmas. This winter, most chill-hour accumulation occurred after Christmas.”
Peach sizes for the 2021 crop were slightly smaller based on dry spring conditions. The small size led to problems with marketability. The 2021 crop’s quality was good in terms of flavor and sugars.
Other vegetables unchanged
Asparagus, cantaloupes, squash, sweet potatoes, greens, sweet corn are all expected to remain stable as compared to 2021.
In 2021, cantaloupe production was reduced by about 2% locally, but the early crop proved of good quality. Sugar and flavor profiles in cantaloupes were very good last year.
As the season progressed, size increased, as did the incidence of belly rots, making fruit unmarketable.
Squash acreage has remained stable over the past couple of years and about 180 acres of sweet potatoes were grown in the area in 2021.
Greens and sweet corn also have remained stable in the last few years.