Things Were Tough Down on the Farm in 2009

Daniel E. Mullins
Commercial Horticulture Extension Faculty
Santa Rosa County
6263 Dogwood Dr.
Milton, FL   32570

Every growing season brings challenges to Northwest Florida farmers and so far this one has been a doozy! Following is a checklist of things that went wrong during the spring of 2009.

Coyotes love watermelons! A common scene in panhandle fields. Photo Credits: Dan Mullins, Santa Rosa County

Flood Destroys Early Plantings: Three days of rain during the last days of March killed or washed away the earliest planted spring crops. Other fields were flooded, eroded and required reworking. Eighty two claims were made to the Farm Service Agency (FSA) pertaining to physical damage to property from flooding in Santa Rosa County.

A Cold Spring: Farmers like to get off to an early start and many vegetables are normally planted by mid-March in our area. However, a check of weather records at the West Florida REC through the FAWN Weather Network indicates that an exceptionally cold spring occurred. Between mid-March and mid-April there were seven dates and a total of 33 hours when temperatures fell below 45 degrees F. One of those cold nights occured on April 15. As a result, spring air and soil temperatures remained too low for early planting, the corresponding earlier harvest and better prices at the market.

Then Came the Heat: Once the cold, wet spring passed vegetables and row crops were planted late and began growing. Excessive heat then began to occur in late spring and early summer. This was one of the few occasions that I have observed such high temperatures that photosynthesis ceased. Beginning on June 18 and continuing for about a week, little or no growth and development occurred.

Critters Also Take a Toll: Deer continue to be major pests, and have even expanded their diet to include cotton plants in addition to peanuts, soybeans and other crops. Now, add coyotes to the list. There are several ways that this prolific, intelligent species damages crops, but a good example is found in watermelon production.

Damage is occuring now in some watermelon fields. Generally coyotes locate the fields, bite open the melons, eat the flesh and leave the rind (see photo). In many cases they only take a few bites, leaving the remainder of the melon to rot. They often feed in packs or families and quickly learn evasive tactics. It is not unusual for an extra intelligent individual to chew the vine away from the fruit and then roll the melon to a safer, more concealed area for consumption.