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RUTLEDGE, Tenn.– The first crop of prized Grainger County field tomatoes is late and the fruit is smaller than usual, a University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension agent said Wednesday.

 “I would say we are 20 days late,” said Charles Cavin of the UT extension service. “That hurts. We concentrate on the early crop because it’s our bread and butter.”

 Cavin blamed the weather, which has been wet and cool, for the field plants’ slow development.

“Hot-house” tomatoes have been available for weeks, but those from the field put the rural East Tennessee county on the vegetable map.

 Gourmet markets throughout the South prize the Grainger field tomato for its acidity, an attribute associated with the county’s acid soil.

 “The field tomatoes just didn’t do anything after we put them out,” Cavin said. “We had nighttime temperatures in the 50s through the end of May and we need 60s to do any good.”

 The first crop should be in full harvest toward the end of next week, although the tomatoes have not “sized out” compared with a normal year, Cavin said.

 “Not only have we lost time, we lost size,” Cavin said. “The weather messed us up big time.”

 Grainger’s commercial growers will plant and harvest a second and a third tomato crop before the normal season winds down about mid-October, Cavin said.

 “Those crops should be fine,” Cavin said. “But when you are geared to an early market as we are in Grainger County, it hurts. You can’t catch up.”

 Tomatoes have been big business in Grainger County for more than a quarter century. Some growers plant 200-300 acres at a time with a gross value of approximately $8,000 per acre.

 Cavin said he did not know the dollar value of this year’s loss.

 Contact: Charles Cavin (423-828-3411)