Hot, dry weather made for a fine North Fork harvest

The fine vintage wines expected from this year’s North Fork grape harvest will be a reminder of this past summer’s stellar growing conditions for years to come. But what about the veggies of 2010?
The hot, mostly dry growing conditions that favored grapes may not have translated into good news for all growers of other crops, according to Joe Gergela, executive director of the Long Island Farm Bureau.
A lot of sweet corn, for example, which is planted in phases in spring in order to lengthen the harvest period, ripened all at the same time in mid-summer due to the heat, Mr. Gergela explained. That made prices sag despite the fine quality of the crop.
“The heat came in faster than expected. There was a lot of overlap” among successive crops,” said Mr. Gergela. “There was an awful lot of corn on the market at the same time. That was a little difficult for the growers.” Also, he said, a lot of corn from the Hudson Valley and New Jersey came on the market at the same time, which helped keep prices lower than last year’s.
Potato prices, meanwhile, held steady despite an abundant local crop because of production declines elsewhere in the country, he said.
John Kujawski, who this year grew 300 acres of potatoes in Jamesport, was happy with the year’s crop.
“It had a nice quality and the price was good. Everybody in the country cut down on acreage and that brought the price up,” he said.
Phil Schmitt, whose Philip A. Schmitt & Son Farm covers 175 acres along Sound Ave. in Riverhead, had some mixed results.
“The lettuce does not care for it quite as hot as it was,” he said of his summer crop. “We did have some issues with that, but other than that it was a decent growing season. I prefer to see it dry.” In that sense, 2010 was far better than rainy 2009.
He said that his early spring and fall lettuce crops were outstanding, however, and the cabbage, collard greens and kale in his fields fared very well.
Mr. Gergela said that the hot weather was a big boon for tomatoes and peppers, and that the market for flowers, which usually improves along with the overall economy, did better this year than in the past two.
He added that he had been a little disappointed the grocery store chains hadn’t bought more local produce than they did. He said that King Kullen has been buying local produce for about 15 years, and a large local distributor has been stocking Stop & Shop’s shelves with local corn, tomatoes, peppers, cauliflower, broccoli and other vegetables. But the quantity of local food they bought this year did not increase, as local growers had hoped it would.
“There were expectations that grocery stores would buy more for the locally grown movement,” he said. “But it’s the reality of the produce business that there are times when they get things from elsewhere.”
“The reality is the market is international now. We have to compete with other growing areas,” he continued. “I wouldn’t say it was a stupendous year. It was better than the last couple of years.”
Smaller-scale but diversified growers seemed to benefit the most from the weather.
Al Krupski Jr., whose family farms 70 acres in Cutchogue, said that they had 14 sequential plantings of sweet corn in the spring, and in this case that helped to offset the quick ripening brought on by the summer heat.
“Some did run together because of the heat, but we’re only planting what we can sell in a week,” he said.
“It was a nice growing season. Everything was early because of the heat. We never picked strawberries” as early as “Memorial Day weekend before,” he said. “Sweet corn came in for the Fourth of July with gusto.”
“We had two completely opposite years in a row. The year before was cold and wet,” he said. “Mother Nature is going to do what she’s going to do. That’s the business.”
Mr. Krupski’s farm stand on Main Road in Peconic will be open through Thanksgiving, and he expects his self-service stand on Skunk Lane in Cutchogue, where he sells cold weather vegetables, will be open for several weeks after that.
“Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli love this weather,” he said of this week’s brisk November chill.
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