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Plant & Pest Advisory > Vegetable Crops

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The points of contact between Rutgers Cooperative Extension Service and the grower & business communities are the NJ County Agricultural Agents. The agents are a tremendous source of information for both new and experienced growers. Visit your local county extension office.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Salvaging Crops After the Hurricane

Wes Kline, Cumberland Co. Ag Agent and Food Safety expert, provides four resource articles and discusses the adverse effects of Hurricane Irene in terms of food safety and produce quality in the Plant & Pest Advisory.
Photo by Bill Gallo Jr,, Damage at Cumberland...
Heavy rains and flooding over the last two weeks have adversely affected many fruits and vegetables.  Standing water after a heavy rain is not an unusual occurrence.  Floodwaters that have come in contact with septic systems, biosolids, treatment facilities, etc. are a concern.  Fruits and vegetables touched by floodwater should not be sold or consumed.  The Food and Drug Administration considers any crop that comes in contact with floodwater to be “adulterated” and cannot be sold for human consumption.  This is especially true for leafy greens close to harvest.  A thirty-foot buffer (area to turn equipment) should be maintained between the crop and flood areas.  To reduce the chances for cross-contamination do not drive through the flooded areas to harvest.
There is not only a food safety issue, but produce quality.  How many have harvested eggplant, peppers or watermelon and let them set a day to find the fruit breaking down.  Have you shipped a load that looked good and had it returned running out of the trailer?  It is better to make sure the produce is sound before shipping than paying to have it returned.  Harvesting in flooded areas only increases the chances that the crop will be in poor condition when it arrives at the market.  If there is winter squash and pumpkins in the field ready to harvest, let them set for a few days before picking up. That will give the bad fruit a chance to breakdown.  When harvested make sure the squash and pumpkins can dry off completely so there are no rot problems.  Consider wiping the fruit with a chlorine solution (100-150 ppm) to reduce microbial load on the surface.  Growers who plan to store squash will need to be especially vigilant that the squash do not breakdown.
Crops that are small will need additional fertilizer after these rains.  If possible, cultivate and sidedress with your normal fertilizer applications for bare ground crops or inject through the drip for crops on plastic.  If the crops on bare ground are too large to sidedress, consider foliar applications of Urea (9 lbs/100 gal of water at 50-100 gal/A).
Do not stop your normal pest management programs.  Some growers may think about waiting to see what the crop looks like in a week or two.  If you do, it is too late! Flooding increases the severity of diseases.  When roots become waterlogged they cannot take up nutrients, become discolored, rot and the plant dies.  Phytophthora, Pythium, Rhizoctonia and Sclerotinia will be more prevalent after all these rains.  For growers who plant peppers and eggplant make sure to spray fungicides for phytophthora control.