A hailstorm some industry veterans say is unprecedented has significantly damaged Georgia vegetable and fruit crops.
The May 22 storm ravaged watermelon, bell pepper, sweet corn, cucumber, squash, cantaloupe and other produce crops in three or four south-central Georgia counties, said Brian Tankersley, Tifton County Extension agent.
“I’ve talked to 50- and 60-year-old farmers who said they’ve never seen anything like it,” Tankersley said. “We don’t have a complete estimate, but the hail was devastating to any crop it hit. Some of the crops, it almost looks like someone took a shredder and went through.”
The timing couldn’t have been much worse, said Tankersley and Charles Hall, executive director of the La Grange-based Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association.
“It’s the middle of harvest, so any hail was bad,” Hall said.
The storm covered an area 30 to 40 miles wide, he said.
One crop hit particularly hard was watermelons — which, like other South Georgia crops, must capitalize on a fairly narrow market window, Tankersley said.
“There were close to 200 to 300 acres of watermelons that were close to harvest,” he said. “And it’s not like they can turn around and replant now.”
Tankersley heard reports of hail the size of a quarter and larger. It covered roads and was up to six inches deep in places.
“It looked just like a snowstorm,” he said.
Despite the widespread damage, some major growers in the Tifton and Moultrie areas were spared. Tifton-based Georgia Vegetable Co. Inc., most of whose acreage is north of Tifton; and Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., whose Georgia acreage is concentrated between Moultrie and Thomasville, both reported no hail, according to company officials.