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Winter vegetables going in despite oppressive heat

110 degrees.

114 degrees.

112 degrees and thunderstorms.

Those are the forecast temperatures and weather conditions for Yuma, Ariz., this week — too hot and humid for man or cauliflower.

Nevertheless, cauliflower was on the mind of Yuma PCA Charles Waters as he was creating the upcoming winter vegetable planting schedule for the A. Duda and Sons farm he manages in the southwestern Arizona desert.

“I’m scheduling cauliflower transplanting Aug. 23,” he says.

Other operations are scheduling broccoli transplants in about that same window, according to UA Area Extension Agent Kurt Nolte.

Vegetable producers are hoping the weather moderates a bit by then. Since July 9, the high each day has been no less than 110 degrees, with nighttime minimums no lower than 80. What little summer cotton acreage is left in Yuma has shed 20 percent to 25 percent of its bolls from the oppressive, humid heat.

Many growers are about to give up on cotton, Nolte says, since the price is so low. Cotton is little more than a rotation crop ahead of winter vegetables, and now even short season cotton is not profitable with the low prices.

A lot of growers are focusing on summer watermelons and cantaloupes rather than cotton,” he says. “Melons did pretty well this year. Prices were good, and there were no yield losses from whiteflies.”

Low whitefly counts is also good news for vegetable producers going into the winter season — a big carryover of whiteflies is not what growers and PCAs need.

The biggest concern, once again, as planting season begins, is the availability of labor to harvest produce, especially if prices are good.

Labor is a Catch 22 issue — if prices are good, labor may be short; if prices are poor, labor may be adequate. Last year labor was an issue going into the season, but prices were so poor there was enough labor to meet the market demand.

And then there is the high cost of fuel and fertilizer.

Nevertheless, it’s full steam ahead for desert vegetable producers. “Growers have no choice but to use all the inputs available to produce the best quality possible to be ready for the market at harvesttime,” says Nolte.

It’s plant and pray every year about this time as growers start producing the bountiful winter vegetables the nation has come to expect.

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