August 19, 2010

While the continuous heat and humidity may have stunted crop yields and turned home lawns brown, there may be some truth to that old silver lining theory for those who like the sweeter side of life.Horticulture crops, such as tomatoes, watermelons, apples, grapes and berries, may taste sweeter this year.

 “These long, hot periods actually speed up maturation, and some horticultural crops will be ready to harvest 10 days to two weeks earlier than normal,” said John Strang, University of Kentucky extension horticulture specialist. “Growers need to pay close attention to their plants and trees, so they don’t miss harvest times.”Strang explained that higher temperatures result in faster respiration in plants, affecting not only maturity, but also color and taste.

“Tomatoes may not be as red this year because not as much lycopene will be synthesized,” he said. “With clear skies and lots of sunshine, many horticultural crops will increase in sugar content resulting in a much sweeter fruit.”

Vegetable crops may experience some problems with bloom drop, which Strang said results in beans, peppers and even tomatoes not setting.

 “Particularly in sweet corn, the pollination time is short with weather like we’ve experienced,” Strang said. “We could see anything from problems with tip fill, missing kernels and even blank ears in sweet corn this year.”As for other horticulture crops, Strang said pumpkins could be affected and produce a split crop, part coming in on time and part coming in closer to Halloween.

 “I think some crops like broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower may be more difficult to plant in this heat, and growers may need to water more often,” he said. “But growers may be able to spread out their pesticide spray schedules a bit.

”The UK Agricultural Weather Center keeps track of a wide variety of historical and current weather data. Tom Priddy, UK extension meteorologist, said although this summer has yielded many consecutive days in the 90s, it is not necessarily going to go down as one of the hottest years on record.

“Simply because a year had a high number of days at or above 90 degrees, doesn’t mean the year was warmer than average,” Priddy said. “In 1921, parts of Kentucky had 107 days at or above 90; 2010 has had more than 50 so far, but we’re still a ways from reaching any kind of record for consecutive heat.

”Priddy said most areas of the state are not in official drought status at this point.

 “Yes, we have had an impact on row crops, and there have been several periods of livestock heat stress due to high temperatures and heat indices, but we’ve not had any record temperatures – just a lengthy period of sustained heat.”

The long-range, three-month, outlook for Kentucky puts western parts of the state into drought status at some point, but central and eastern areas should be close to normal in precipitation.

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