Savvy Ohio farmers save pumpkin crop, Halloween

Jim Hillibish

GateHouse News ServiceIt took some creative thinking and extra labor, but Ohio farmers rescued their 2012 pumpkin harvests from the ravages of severe drought. Yes, there will be a happy Halloween.

At Maize Valley Farms and Winery in Marlboro Township, Ohio, Bill Bakan pronounces his crop “excellent.”

“We had the right timing and good fertility. The pumpkin has a very large seed full of carbohydrates. If you can limit the disease pressure, it can weather the storm,” Bakan said.

“Every field is a home run, especially our 15-acre one,” Bakan said.

His prices are about the same as last year, $2 to $40 (for a huge “trophy” pumpkin). He’s set for opening with his new, GPS-generated corn-field maze and other features.

Terry Gram at Arrowhead Orchards in Paris, Ohio, heavily mulched his plants.

“Our crop is pretty good. It’s just getting starting to turn orange,” he said. “We covered the plants in straw. It really surprised us.”

He’s growing pumpkins on 1.5 acres and has pumpkins up to 30 pounds. Prices are the same as last year, $1 for pie pumpkins, up to $10-$12 for the largest ones. His pick-your-own patch and hay rides open Sept. 22.

Dale Stoffer, who farms an acre of pumpkins for his Stoffer’s Farm Market in Homeworth, Ohio, irrigated his crop twice.

“It’s actually better than last year when we had rain damage,” he said. “They are thick on the ground.”

Bob Henderson at Adam’s Strawberry Patch in Navarre, Ohio, will open with a full pumpkin inventory.

“Our crop looks good. It’s spotty south of here. The blossoms failed to form. No blossoms, no pumpkins,” he said.

Remember 2011?

Last year, heavy rains from the remnants of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee rotted the pumpkin crop and caused a 75-percent spike in wholesale prices in the Midwest and Pennsylvania.

Consumers saw an increase in price, but not that much as stores brought in pumpkins from other areas. Price competition is always high.

Farmers in Illinois, the top-producing pumpkin state, report the 2012 drought had little effect on their pumpkins — at least for the ones who have irrigation systems.

Illinois has more than 27,000 acres in pumpkins. Farmers credit the plant’s resiliency for drought survival. More than 90 percent of the nation’s processed pumpkins are grown there.

The Illinois trick: Start seeds in greenhouses instead of the dry fields. Pumpkins are 90 percent water.