Sunday, October 5, 2003

Pumpkins good, but not bountiful

Consumers shouldn't see much change in prices

By Anna Guido
Enquirer contributor

Weather hasn't been kind to the Tristate's pumpkin growers in recent years.

Michael Garver and daughter Alayna, 4, sell pumpkins at Garver Farm in Lemon Township.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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Last year was too dry, plagued by drought. And this year was too wet, leaving farmers fighting diseases spurred by a soggy summer after fighting soggy fields when planting in the spring. The end result for 2003: good-quality pumpkins, but the harvest will be half a normal season's crop.

Yet consumers shouldn't see much change in retail prices, which have stayed about the same for the past five years (between 25 to 35 cents a pound).

"We had an excellent spray program to fight fungus, and we watched our crops carefully," said Joyce Brown of Brown's Family Farm Market on Ohio 128 in Ross.

The pumpkin yield is down at Brown's this year, but it's better than last year.

"At least this year we have pumpkins," Brown said.

Ohio is one of the nation's top pumpkin producers, with growers harvesting an average 3,600 acres a year, according to the Ohio Agricultural Statistics Service in Columbus.

Chris Herring, a service statistician, said wholesale prices for pumpkins vary statewide and last year averaged 12 cents a pound.

Gary Gao, Ohio State University extension agent for horticulture in Clermont County, said it's been a rough year for growing pumpkins and other vegetables because frequent rain kept fields wet for too long.

Gao talks weekly with 14 other county extension agents, and all are reporting similar problems.

"Pumpkins need a certain amount of moisture for pollination, but not as much as this year and more than last year," Gao said.

At Garver Farm on Ohio 63 in Lemon Township, the yield is "tremendous" compared with last year's 50 percent crop loss, and the pumpkins are ranging in size from 3 to 200 pounds, Michael Garver said.

The saturated soil was difficult to till, so Garver tried the "no-till" planting method that soybean and corn growers have been using for years. "And it worked," Garver said.

The wet weather posed a more serious problem at Irons Fruit Farm on Stubbs Mill Road in Lebanon.

"We had a late start planting because of the constant rain," said Gayle Irons. "We couldn't get out into the fields to plant."

Last year was actually better for Irons, in terms of quantity. But the pumpkin size was down, since so much of a pumpkin is water.

"When it's dry, they don't get very big - you're hurt on yield that way," Irons said.

Boone County in Northern Kentucky has several pumpkin growers, and all have good crops this year, said Mike Klahr, extension agent for horticulture for the Boone County Cooperative Extension Service.

Later plantings have done better than those planted during the normal planting season for pumpkins (May/June), when the ground was too cold and wet, Klahr said.

Kinman Farms on Burlington Pike (Ky. 18) had some trouble with fungus, but it came late enough in the season - when the pumpkins were mature - that there was minimal damage.

"We're up on top of a hill, so we don't get the fog and other weather conditions" that breed fungus, Kim Kinman said.

"I really have a good crop this year. It's a little better than last year - about 20 percent."

Pumpkins and other produce from Boone County growers are available at the farmers market just east of the extension office on Burlington Pike.


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