GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) Summer may not be the same this year. The powerful hailstorm Wednesday morning may have done significant damage to North Central Florida's watermelon crop.
When TV20 reporter Landon Harrar got into the fields around 5 in the afternoon all the hail was gone but its effects will be felt for a long time to come.
"I knew that was a potential scenario for significant damage."
The aftermath is easy to see. If you look at the dirt around the plants you can see pock marks where the hail hit and even the plastic covering meant to keep the young plants warm has small bee-bee sized tears in it. Hail isn't a new phenomenon for farmers to deal with but this storm hit harder than most.
Levy County IFAS agent Ed Jennings spent most of the day visiting farmers and checking on their crops, he said. "When I heard the hail hitting, it actually woke me up around 4 am and one of the first things I thought about was all the young tender watermelon plants our growers had in the field."
Loran Brookins is a watermelon farmer in Chiefland who added, "I've been on this dirt all my life and I've never had anything like this before, this substantial, I mean this is a pretty bad hit, pretty bad hit."
Because the young plants' stems were damaged and in many cases split the worry is even if the plants can fight their way back they will be delayed. Meaning what would normally be just North Central Florida harvesting time will run into competition from Georgia farmers.
Jennings explained, "if our growers are delayed in the market that's going to hurt them economically even if we do grow plants out because it's going to be later in the season. More melons and more melons on the market means the price goes down."
Brookins added, "as long as they don't kill the stem or the bud they'll come out of it, hopefully. They'll just be like Ed was saying they'll be behind, where I was ahead of people now I'm behind people."
Loran Brookins 40 acre field may come out as a total loss, he says he probably already has roughly 100-thousand dollars invested into the field. He said only time will tell if the young plants can bounce back.
"I won't know about re-planting until about Saturday or so with 3 days of sunshine before we know what the outcome is going to be."
An IFAS watermelon specialist for the Northern Florida region told me this region produces roughly one-third of Florida's watermelon crop every year, roughly 7000 acres in total. He says from listening to farmers today at least half of that acreage has been impacted to some degree by the hail storm.