Water, water, and watermelon

Recent heavy rains haven't dampened the spirits of South Carolina's watermelon producers as over 200 growers attended the annual Watermelon Field Day July 11 at the Clemson University Edisto Research Center.
Dr. Gilbert Miller, a horticulturalist who led the event, said the facility, located west of Blackville off Hwy. 78, has had 22 inches of rainfall since April 1 - twice the historical average for the same time period. He said the intense rainfall has led to plenty of disease in this year's watermelon crop. He said some crop yields have been cut in half.
Watermelon, which is 92 percent water, has long been a staple crop in South Carolina.
In 2012, the state produced 285 million pounds of watermelon, which accounted for 7 percent of the total U.S. production (3.9 billion pounds), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Tony Keinath, a vegetable pathologist at the Clemson University Coastal Research and Education Center in Charleston, said this year's growing season has seen the presence of four well-known diseases in South Carolina at the same time: powdery mildew, gummy stem blight, downy mildew and anthracnose.
Rainy and cloudy weather are primary factors for rapid outbreak of downy mildew, and early detection is critical, Keinath said. Powdery mildew and downy mildew generally are the most damaging diseases.
"My studies in Charleston clearly show that as incidents of powdery mildew increased, crop yields are reduced," Keinath said.
Record rain amounts have fallen across South Carolina this year, but Barnwell County and other surrounding counties have been hit especially hard.
In the 30 days leading up to July 15, most of Barnwell County has had at least 10 inches of rain. That is more than double the normal amount observed for that time period, according to the National Weather Service.
In the seven days before July 15, some areas of the county received 5 inches of rain, according to NWS.
Heavy rain acts as a double-edged sword for farmers. The fields can be too wet to harvest and too wet to plant, which means famers lose out on growing days. This hurts their bottom line at the end of the year.
"It's all part of the ups and downs of farming," Miller said about the weather. "From a plant pathologist standpoint, it's been a wonderful year."
On the bright side, the sun was shinning and no rain fell during this year's Watermelon Field Day event.