Fruit and vegetable farming

The market for fruits and vegetables in Bamberg County in 2018 was adequate although growers did struggle with labor and transportation costs.

“Acquiring enough skilled labor for harvesting the fruit and vegetable crops continues to be a stressful issue for many growers," said Dr. Gilbert Miller, Clemson Extension area vegetable specialist. "The crops need to be harvested at their peak quality, and the window of opportunity is narrow.”

“Consequently, growers need skilled labor to be able to do the harvesting correctly and promptly,” Miller said.

Another challenge facing growers in 2018 was the new trucking regulations.

"Some growers had difficulty acquiring adequate transportation for their produce," Miller said. "The transportation costs for most produce in 2018 increased significantly.”

Most of the local fruit and vegetable crop -- watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers, yellow squash, zucchini squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, greens, sweet corn, strawberries and blueberries -- are shipped out, but some is sold close to the region and in the state, he said.

“The bulk of the commercial acreage in all vegetables is shipped, but some of the lesser planted fruits and vegetables -- i.e., tomatoes, greens and sweet corn -- go to the Columbia Farmer’s Market," Miller said.

Another concern of growers is the  North American Free Trade Agreement changes regarding tariffs, according to Miller.

“The revisions to NAFTA will probably have a market impact on our early-season produce in the future," he said. "I am not sure if it will be a plus or a negative.”

Overall, the local market for most fruits and vegetables was adequate in 2018 and similar to 2017, Miller noted.

“As always happens with the market, there will be periods of high market prices and periods of low market prices," he said. "Many growers make successive plantings of their various fruits and vegetables to not only provide their buyers produce for an extended period of time, but it also helps to spread market risk and hopefully hit more high market prices than low."

Acreage of fruit and vegetable crops planted in the region have remained steady from 2017. There was also a small amount of commercial acreage of Honey Dew melons and organic sweet potatoes, Miller said.

“Squash and cucumbers were planted both spring and fall with some of the fall crop double cropped behind spring vegetables," he said.

Mother Nature was also relatively kind to fruits and vegetables. There were no unexpected severe weather problems locally, but severe weather problems that affected North Carolina could have a positive ripple effect for local growers.

“With the tremendous loss of sweet potato acreage in North Carolina due to flooding, the sweet potato supply should be down, which could be a market plus for South Carolina growers,” Miller said.

He noted that substantial amounts of sweet potatoes are grown in the region as well as acreage dedicated to them.

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Staff Writer

Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

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