Drought Cuts Pumpkin Numbers
October 5, 2012
By Mary Vanac, The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio
Oct. 05--Good thing pumpkins like it hot and dry.
This year`s drought reduced the number and size of pumpkins in many Ohio patches, but some say the summer`s abundant sunlight also produced more-attractive pumpkins.
And growers who irrigated their crops have both better-looking and bigger pumpkins to offer consumers this year.
"Overall, there should be a good-size, quality harvest," said Lisa Schacht, co-owner of Schacht Family Farm and Market in Canal Winchester and president of the Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association.
Pumpkin prices appear to be holding close to last year`s, too. "We kept our prices the same as last year on everything," said Kerry Sullivan, whose parents own Jacquemin Farms near Dublin. "We had a decent crop. And with the economy, we decided to give people a break."
It`s too early to tell whether the drought will
affect the supply or price of canned pumpkin for holiday pies, said Roz O`Hearn, spokeswoman for Nestle USA, maker of Libby`s-brand pumpkin products.
"Our harvest is under way now," O`Hearn said in an email. "The many thousands of acres of pumpkin we grow are located right in the midst of the drought-stricken area, 50 miles out in any direction from Morton, Ill., where we pack the pumpkins we pick."
Libby`s did not irrigate its pumpkin fields, she said, so yields will be down this year. However, because this year`s high-quality pumpkins are producing more solids than usual, Libby`s is holding its prices with last year`s.
"Our suggested retail price for our Libby`s 100 percent Pure Pumpkin is the same as last year: $1.99 for a 15-ounce can and $3.19 for a 29-ounce can," O`Hearn said. "We hope we`ll be able to stay at this price, but we`ll know better as we move deeper into the harvest this season."
Pumpkins have become a big business in Ohio, which ranked No. 3 in production last year, said Richard Snead, an agricultural statistician at the U.S. Department of Agriculture`s Ohio field office in Reynoldsburg.
Ohio pumpkins -- used as ornaments and for pies -- accounted for $16.6 million in farm value last year, a dip from $16.7 million in 2010, according to the USDA.
That represents more than 10 percent of the U.S. pumpkin crop last year, Snead said.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service in Reynoldsburg does its pumpkin survey after the harvest, so it has no estimate yet on this year`s yield, he said.
"All I can say is the pumpkin industry has exploded," Snead said. "Production has been trending up in the last few years."
U.S. farmers have consistently planted more acres of pumpkins each year. Last year`s 51,300 acres planted was up 25 percent from 2000, according to USDA statistics. That`s because pumpkins are a high-value crop for growers, said Schacht, who grows ornamental and pie pumpkins on the 120-acre farm she runs with her husband, David.
"They`re a high-production vegetable if you treat them well," Schacht said.
Temperatures well above 90 degrees this summer caused pumpkin vines to set fewer fruits, she said. But Schacht drip-irrigated her fields, so the pumpkins grew larger than usual.
She expects to have nearly the same tonnage of "very bright-colored, strong-handled pumpkins" to sell this year as last year.
Schacht is selling giant pumpkins -- like the 1,000-pound ones that take home prizes from the Circleville Pumpkin Show -- for between $15 and $50.
She`s charging between $1 and $10 for jack-o`-lanterns, and between $2 and $5 for a couple of varieties of pie pumpkins.
More farmers also are growing more pumpkins because they are in high demand from consumers.
"More money is spent at Halloween than on any other holiday except Christmas," Schacht said. " Growers are going to grow for that."
Many growers also pair pumpkins with activities -- drinking cider slushies, eating doughnuts, taking hayrides to pick pumpkins, winding through hay mazes, jumping around in bounce houses -- to generate more revenue for their farms.
Jacquemin Farms` Sullivan spent a recent day hosting busloads of preschoolers, each of whom took home a child-size pumpkin. Her farm is selling jack-o`-lanterns for 45 cents a pound, specialty pumpkins for 55 cents a pound, and baking pumpkins for 69 cents a pound.
Her farm also offers a full slate of fall-festival activities on October weekends.
Two sisters who grew up picking pumpkins at Jacquemin returned this year on college break, Sullivan said.
"They come for the whole experience," she said. "They spend a day with us. They get lots of pictures and create great memories."
(c)2012 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
Story Image: Pumpkins are displayed on a porch in Sewell, N.J. (Troy, WeatherBug user)
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