Drought takes toll on Midwestern produce crops

08/06/2012 02:16:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

Midwestern field crops grown without irrigation have long withered from the continuing drought.

But the hot dry weather is beginning to take its toll even on irrigated crops, such as tree fruit, berries and tomatoes, according to a news release.

"Indiana irrigation systems have not been designed for the extreme conditions of this summer, and it has been difficult to get enough water on all the crops when they need it," Liz Maynard, Purdue Extension horticulture specialist, said in the release. "The high temperatures also add additional stress that can reduce yield or quality even for crops that are irrigated."

Tree fruit are some of the least affected by the heat and drought, according to the release.

Much of their water requirements are during the first onth of fruit development.

Nevertheless, the drought has reduced shoot growth, which can benefit growers by reducing pruning and allowing more sun to reach the fruit.

Growers are having a hard time keeping up with the irrigation requirements of berries, including strawberries, blueberries and raspberries.

Hot temperatures also are causing the berries to ripen quickly and at times softer, less flavorful, fruit.

Until recently, established grape vineyards with their deep roots have been able to mine for soil moisture.

Vines now have begun to show signs of stress, such as dropping leaves.

On the plus side, the hot, dry weather has reduced fruit rot, and sugar concentrations within the berries have increased.

But without rain, the vines may shut down and the crop may not ripen.

About half of the watermelons in Indiana are not irrigated.

Although recent rainfall has aid some of those, for others it was too late.

The heat also has reduced fruit set and yield.

Cantaloupe growers, on the other hand, haven't experienced as many problems because most of their fields are irrigated.

Even with proper irrigation, tomato plants have suffered from the heat, and fruit set has been reduced.

In addition, some growers have seen blossom-end rot, a disease caused by insufficient calcium.

Even in fields with sufficient calcium in the soil, a lack of water prevents the mineral from reaching the fruit.

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