Beating the Heat: Broiling sun, lack of rain stressing region's crops

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Mike Bucci figures it’s been close to six weeks since he’s had a good rain at his farm in Greenwood Springs.
And his crops are paying the price.
Bucci is among a couple of dozen farmers who sell their produce at the Tupelo Farmers’ Market on Spring Street. Only a handful of them were at the market with vegetables Thursday morning.
“I lost all my English peas,” Bucci said. “And the green beans about got caught with the heat. It’s gonna raise havoc with the corn, I guess.”
Bucci keeps water on his tomatoes, okra, squash and blueberries, so those crops should be plentiful. But a little rain wouldn’t hurt.
“I thought we were going to get some on Wednesday night, but it just scared us is all,” he said. “It just got windy.”
Conditions at Jimmy Sheffield’s place in Mooreville aren’t much better.
“I’m starting to lose squash already,” he said. “Nothing else is in danger right now, but it will be if we don’t get any rain. Stuff’s going to die. I’ve got watermelon and cantaloupe and I don’t know what they’ll do if we don’t get that rain.”
Sheffield said he dug all his new potatoes up earlier this week, and he busted clods of dirt half as big as a five-gallon bucket.
“Usually when we get the rain like we got in the spring, we’re going to pay for it later because everything just shuts down,” he said.
Sheffield uses drip-tape irrigation, which bubbles water along a row of plants and puts water right at the roots.
“It wastes a lot less water than regular irrigation,” he said. “It’s the only way to keep stuff alive right now and pay down your bills.”
‘A messed-up year’
Billy Daniels was at the market on Thursday selling green tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, zucchini and green beans.
An irrigation system at his farm in Blue Springs keeps his produce alive.
“I raise a lot of tomatoes,” Daniels said. “I’ve got about 2,500 plants. We’re just going to have to start picking and get them out of the field and do what we can with them. We sell a good many green tomatoes. But this drought has really hurt us. We do need rain now. We do need rain.”
Jeff Shields of Becker Bottom in Monroe County mostly raises corn and peas.
“I’ve lost some corn, but some came in early enough that it wasn’t affected,” he said. “The cool and the dry spell has had a big effect on my peas, though. It’s just been a messed-up year.”
Carla Gibson of Ecru hasn’t lost anything yet due to the heat or the drought.
But that’s because she’s been relying heavily on her garden hose.
“On the tomatoes, about every four plants look like they’re kind of bothered by it,” she said. “But before we let anything go down, we’ll water. We’ll start pulling green tomatoes and let them lay out and get red.”
The only thing James Keller had to sell this week was blackberries. Keller’s farm is south of Peppertown in Itawamba County.
“With the lack of rain, we’re having to throw away twice as many as we’re selling,” he said. “They just dry up and shrivel. We can irrigate – we can get water up under them – but we can’t keep the sun off them.”
Keller has tomatoes, peas, corn, muscadines, oriental persimmons and blueberries coming later in the season.
“I’m not sure about cantaloupes, though,” he said. “We’ve planted cantaloupes for the third time. And that tornado that came through in April – it got our fruit tree crop. The wind got them. It was really something. I picked up a Chickasaw County car tag out of my garden.”
Contact Ginna Parsons at (662) 678-1581 or ginna.parsons@journalinc.com.