Lack Of Rain Hurts Local Tomato Crop

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Grainger County (WVLT) -- Today's rain sparked hope for some East Tennessee farmers, but the damage from this year's drought may already be done.

Volunteer TV's Mike McCarthy takes us to the home of some tasty Grainger County tomatoes to check out the vines.

A few rain drops were following across the fields.

"We've only got a sprinkle," said Jack Ritter, owner of a Grainger County farm.

But a few sprinkles are no where near enough.

"I can never remember it being this dry this early," Ritter said.

That's bad news for the rows and rows of famous Grainger County tomatoes at Ritter's Farm.

"When the heat gets to high or when it gets too dry, the pollination is never as good," Ritter said.

East Tennessee averages about 23 inches of rain by June, but this year the plants have seen only about 13 inches. That means we are ten inches in the hole.

"The dry weather and the hot weather could affect the tomato setting and the actual production of the tomato," Ritter said.

That could mean fewer, smaller tomatoes on the vines but not a smaller price on the little red spheres.

"We're also going to see prices in product that are going to be higher than what we normally see and a lot of it's because of the weather conditions," Ritter said.

The higher caused going to help the crops beat the heat and dry dirt.

"It has cost us more to irrigate," Ritter said. "We have a reservoir that we water out of. We pump it with a pump through irrigation under the plastic."

The lack of gray skies haven't been the only problem.

"Our cost this time was higher than it's ever been because of fuel prices," according to the farmer.

But he says he will do whatever he needs to do in order to make a crop and keep tomato lovers happy.

According to Farmer Ritter, the drought could have the biggest impact on crops he can't irrigate, like corn.

He hopes to start plucking his field tomatoes sometime in the next two weeks.

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