by Max Brantley
UA NEWS RELEASE
Three days of freezing temperatures may have sliced Arkansas’ tomato crop in half, said John Gavin, Bradley County agent for the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.
“We didn’t lose all of them,” he said. “If I had to guess, 50 percent of the crop is a total loss, with damage to the other 50 percent.”
Gavin was on the road Tuesday, visiting growers and evaluating the damage.
“There were a lot of solemn looks,” he said. “But except for one or two, everyone said it could’ve been worse.”
Arkansas has about 1,000 acres of commercial tomato growth, plus countless backyard vines. Bradley has about 600 to 700 acres, with another 250 to 300 in Ashley and Drew counties. According to 2006 figures from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Arkansas’ tomato crop was valued at $15.6 million.
The vines are predominantly large, red fresh market tomatoes, with some 50 acres of Roma tomatoes and 20 acres of grape tomatoes
Gavin warns that it will be a few days before a full assessment of the freeze damage can be made.
However, growers had time on their side.
“It’s possible that about half the growers are going to have to sprout them out,” Gavin said. In doing so, growers would cut the damaged plant a couple inches above the to the soil or down to a solid green stem and hope a new sucker, or sprout, will erupt from the undamaged parts of the plants. Otherwise, farmers will be replanting if they can find the plants. All this work will be costly.
“The biggest problem with the freeze is that most of the damage is probably not going to show up until bloom time,” said Randy Clanton, CEO of Clanton Farms at Hermitage. Clanton has 300 to 400 acres of tomatoes.