TRENTON, N.J. (AP) – This week’s flooding in south-central New Jersey has put some crops in jeopardy, with cranberry bogs of particular concern.

Some of the bogs are expected to suffer long-term damage because of retention walls and earthen roads that were damaged by floods in Burlington County, state and local officials said Thursday. The county has 3,800 acres of cranberry bogs and produces the state’s largest cranberry crop.

“It’s going to be questionable what’s going to happen because you just don’t rebuild those things quickly,” said Ray Samulis, a county agricultural agent with the Rutgers Cooperative Extension.

Gov. James E. McGreevey has asked for federal funds to help farmers in Burlington and Camden counties whose crops and equipment were damaged by the torrential rains that started Monday. The rainfall topped a foot in some places, damaging homes and causing some small dams to burst.

The Garden State produces $285 million worth of produce a year, which is sold at markets up and down the East Coast and into Canada.

Water-logged fields pose a variety of problems for already planted crops such as green beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, squash, zucchini, pumpkins, cabbage and broccoli, officials said.

Farmers have difficulty maneuvering tractors and other equipment in muddy fields. Plants also may die because they are unable to absorb nutrients through inundated roots, and the dampness promotes the spread of rot and disease. Similar dangers can affect orchards.

Cranberry plants, which at this stage of the season should be small, leafy stems in dry beds, were caught by the deluge near the end of their pollination period.

“I would say definitely if they’re not pollinated then they’re just lost. They’re not going to make anything. The vines aren’t dead but they’re finished,” Samulis said.

Cranberry plants that were pollinated may suffer fatal scalding when the summer sun heats water on the fruit. If kept in water too long, they also could rot, said Jeff Horn, who has had cranberry bogs in Pemberton Township for nearly 10 years.

“We’re all trying to figure out how it will affect the cranberries,” said Horn, who had 11 inches in his rain gauge Monday night. “We don’t put water on them this time of year.”

Burlington County’s cranberry crop is harvested in September and October. Bogs need to be flooded then and in the winter months, but wrecked walls, dikes and control gates may now make that impossible, Samulis said. The state Agriculture Department did not yet know how many of the county’s bogs had been damaged.

The county also has 1,800 acres devoted to sweet corn. During tours of the area this week, Samulis said he saw only one field of mature stalks that been damaged by being bent – or “goosenecked” – severely.

But corn that was to supply the smaller harvest in the early fall may be destroyed.

While farmers are upset, Samulis said they “are a very resilient group and eternal optimists and they’re going to keep on going – they don’t give up too easily.”

Jeff Beach, a spokesman for the state Agriculture Department, said officials would probably put a price tag on the cost of the damage in a week to 10 days.

He said the damage from rain that hurt farms in Burlington County had the opposite effect on crops elsewhere.

“Having had a real dry spell before this, the much lesser rains that fell throughout the rest of the state really was something that was beneficial,” Beach said.



On the Net:

State agriculture department: http://www.state.nj.us/agriculture/

AP-ES-07-16-04 1043EDT



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