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Heat Speeds Corn Ripening

July 30, 1999

SPRINGFIELD, Va. (AP) _ This summer’s scorching temperatures have caused corn and other vegetables to ripen faster, creating a glut that has caused prices to plunge for already struggling farmers.

One farmer left 70 acres of corn in the fields to wither in the sun after deciding he would lose more money by harvesting it, said Rod Parker, manager of the Northern Neck Farmers Market.

``The heat has really compressed the season,″ Parker said this week. ``The boys who are doing sweet corn are going to take a great big loss.″

The farmer’s market, one of four in Virginia that process, wash and find buyers for produce, traditionally sells sweet corn wholesale to East Coast grocery chains for about $6.50 per crate, but the price has fallen to about $4.50, Parker said.

Of course, those prices are for farmers who have been able to irrigate their fields during the drought that has baked northern Virginia to a crisp.

The prices of cantaloupes, cucumbers and squash also are down for farmers because of the faster growing season, Parker said. The farmers market likes to sell cucumbers for $10 a crate but has been able to move them wholesale for about $7.50. Squash is down to $4.50, from $6.50.

The situation is the same in Southampton County at the state’s Southeast Farmers Market, where sweet corn is a smaller crop. Much of the 22 acres of sweet corn harvested and brought to market has not sold because of the glut, said Louis Gary, interim manager.

``We moved part of it, but that’s all,″ he said.

Despite the glut, supermarkets have not dropped the price of sweet corn, agricultural officials said. And consumers face little danger of having no corn to buy later in the year, because New York and states to the north with later harvests will meet the demand, they added.

The pain to Virginia farmers has been exacerbated by the mountains of produce being sent to market from Georgia, North Carolina and as far away as Canada, Parker said.

``There’s simply too much produce on the market right now″ for farmers to make a profit, he said. ``You can’t pick corn for $4″ per crate.

The situation is the same at the Southwest Farmers Market in, although the big product there is tomatoes, which are selling for $8 to $11 per 25-pound box. Last year, tomatoes sold for $14 a box, manager Kevin Semones said.

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ALBUQUERQUE (AP) _ It’s a lousy year for chili. Just ask farmers in New Mexico’s chili heartland.

Samples from chili fields in Hatch, Rincon, Mesilla, Las Cruces and the Uvas Valley were tested this year and the testing has revealed an old enemy _ the beet curly top virus.

Farmers are sadly familiar with the virus, which caused major losses in New Mexico’s 1995 chili crop.

Chili plants infected with curly top virus develop yellow, curled leaves and stiff, thickened stems that break with a snap. Diseased plants may produce a few dull, wrinkled peppers that ripen prematurely.

New Mexico might lose half its chili crop this year, farm experts have said. Last year’s healthier crop was valued at $58 million.

``More than 98 percent of the samples came back infected with beet curly top,″ said Natalie Goldberg, a plant pathologist with the Cooperative Extension Service at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. ``That was the only viral disease detected in those plants.″

An insect called the beet leafhopper spreads the curly top virus. Once it has been transmitted to the plants, there is no cure.

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