ELIZABETHTOWN — Mother Nature has not been her usual self this season, and local farmers are feeling the impact. After the warmest December on record, plants around Bladen County are peeking out of the ground unusually early and putting out blossoms prematurely.
Extension Agent Bruce LcLean, who is in charge of field crops and commercial horticulture with the N.C. Cooperative Extension in Bladen County, said wheat is the primary crop growing right now and seeing the effects of the warm weather.
The warm weather is taking its toll on the crops, but its effects won’t necessarily be seen until the spring or summer. Plants that expend energy in the winter putting out blooms because of the warm weather won’t put out as many blossoms in the spring.
“Those blooms that come out early are blooms that won’t be fruit in the spring,” reported local farmer Channing Gooden, who is hoping for a large strawberry harvest in the spring. “I don’t want to see blooms until the 15th of March.”
Those plants put out blooms, and then were put back into dormancy by the cold weather that followed.
As far as local commercial horticulture crops like blueberries, they are likely to see a decreased yield as well. With Bladen County being home to more than half of the state’s 9,000-plus acres of blueberries, the loss will be felt by many.
“There was heavy blooming during December, and it is likely to affect yield this coming spring,” predicted McLean.
Ralph Carter Jr., a local blueberry farmer and president of the N.C. Blueberry Council, agrees.
“It is very early in trying to tell how much damage has been done, but we feel there is small amount of damage,” he said, referring to blueberry crops across the state. “The damage we see is on early varieties, and most growers tend to plant just a little of those because it is a hit and miss thing.
“There are great concerns with the amount of chilling hours. If it turns back warm again it’s going to wake the rest of them up,” he added. “They’re all sitting there waiting to come out. so there may be more damage if it turnes warmer again.”
McLean added, “Annual crops like corn or beans or peanuts won’t necessarily be affected, but we are seeing excessive growth in perennials. We don’t want to see wintertime growth. We want plants to be good and healthy, but don’t want excess growth early on. We prefer to have good continuous growth that comes out and develops.”
Not only has the warm weather affected crops, but the amount of rain we’ve seen is taking its toll as well. Gooden, who is trying to grow winter grass for his cattle, has seen an increased rate of growth for his grass because of the warm weather. He points out that on the negative side, however, he is unable to utilize the fields because of the excessive precipitation.
“The fields are drowning and we’re not able to get in the fields or turn the cattle on it because it’s so wet.”
He doesn’t expect to lose the crop, but adds that it’s “just kind of sitting there now, and I can’t use it until it dries out.”
Points out McLean, “At this point in time the main weather problem is the rain. We just need it to stop for a while. It’s been a trmendous hit. All our growers are sitting there hoping for dryer weather getting ready for spring.”
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 862-4163.