Georgia Vidalia Onion growers are ready for Mother Nature to turn off the tap. Record rainfall has dampened their crop, prevented them from getting into fields to take care of it and put it behind in development, says a University of Georgia onion expert.Record rainfall swamped Georgia over the past three months and continues to keep things soggy in southeast Georgia, where farmers typically plant each year an estimated 12,000 acres of Georgia’s official vegetable.“Right now, I’d say the condition of the crop is fair,” said Reid Torrance, UGA Cooperative Extension coordinator in Tattnall County and onion expert. “It’s the wettest I’ve ever seen. We’ve had record rainfall — three to four times normal — which has put everyone behind. We just can’t get in the fields. Basically, we’re trying to play catch up at this point.”Farmers start transplanting onions into fields in November. Conditions were drier then. Onions planted that month had a good head start on the weather, he said. Then the sky opened, dropping 12 inches of rain in December around Tattnall and Toombs counties, where the majority of the crop is planted. Over the past 8 weeks, the region has received close to 20 inches of rain.The crop is usually planted by the end of the year, he said. But this year, only 80 percent was in the ground by Jan. 1. The rest has trickled in during short dry spells.Farmers are a month behind in weed management and fertilizer applications. What they’ve been able to do in fields, he said, in many cases, has been washed away.In a few cases, Torrance has seen entire planting beds washed away, leaving the tiny bulbs once in them piled knee deep at the bottom of fields. In all, an estimated 15 percent of the planted crop is likely already lost.If there is a silver lining, he said, foliar diseases, up to this point, haven’t been a problem for the crop. Prolonged freezing temperatures in January zapped what foliage had sprouted. So, there is nothing for diseases to attack.The onions will be ready to hit the market in April, when harvest typically starts. “But whether it’ll be early or late April right now we don’t know,” he said.Georgia’s climatologist David Stooksbury recently said the wet, cool weather that has blanketed the state this winter will likely continue through spring.“We still have a lot of season left, and onions are resilient,” Torrance said. “But we’ve got to get a break here soon. Rain is the last thing we need.”
Jul 16, 2009Britain prepares to launch phone service to supply antiviralsFollowing a surge of flu-like illnesses, a British system that will allow people to report symptoms by phone and obtain antiviral drugs will be launched very soon, The Times newspaper reported today. Data from general practitioners indicated that the rate of people reporting flu-like illnesses rose to 73 per 100,000 last week, from 50 per 100,000 the week before, the newspaper said. Using the phone service, people will get reference numbers that friends can use to collect antivirals for them.[Jul 16 Times report]South American health ministers meet to coordinate pandemic responseHealth ministers from six South American countries met yesterday in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to coordinate responses to the H1N1 pandemic, according to a report from TerraDaily, a business and technology news Web site. Besides Argentina, the meeting included Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Ministers said the countries need to share medicine and supplies, and they voiced concern about access to vaccines. Argentina has had 137 deaths, second highest toll after the United States.Vaccine contracts might prove worthless in severe pandemic, experts sayExperts warn that if the H1N1 flu pandemic turns severe, countries that have vaccine factories might seize vaccine supplies, rendering contracts that promise doses to other countries meaningless, the Associated Press reports. Many vaccine contracts that countries have signed involve doses made outside their borders. In a severe pandemic, countries with vaccine plants might decide to seize all doses and ban their export, said David Fidler, a law professor at Indiana University, and other experts.Haiti reports its first pandemic H1N1 casesHaiti has confirmed its first three novel H1N1 flu cases, according to a Xinhua report published yesterday. Two cases are in Chilean soldiers serving in the United Nations Stabilization Mission for Haiti, and the third involves a 23-year-old Haitian who has not been outside the country. The two soldiers entered Haiti early this month. All three patients were in stable condition. Samples from 61 people are being tested in foreign laboratories, Health Minister Alex Larsen said.National Biodefense Science Board to hold teleconferenceThe National Biodefense Science Board will host a public teleconference tomorrow to allow the public to participate and comment in a session on findings from an H1N1 countermeasures and decision-making forum held last month by the board’s pandemic influenza working group. Members of the public are invited to call in to listen to and comment on the board’s deliberations. Call-in information is listed on the board’s Web site, listed below.NIAID seeking H1N1 patients for studyThe National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) said today that it is seeking patients with pandemic H1N1 influenza to participate in a study of how the disease affects those with chronic illnesses and impaired immune systems. The study is taking place at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md. Findings will be used to develop new prevention and treatment strategies against the new flu strain.