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State’s pumpkin crop had challenging season
VERONA, Miss. -- Pumpkins are a minor agricultural crop in Mississippi, but demand increases every year as consumers use them mostly for decoration.
Casey Barickman, Mississippi State University Extension Service vegetable specialist and Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station researcher, said the state has an estimated 500 to 600 acres of pumpkins.
“Pumpkin acreage is scattered throughout the state, with no particular region leading the charge,” Barickman said. “I believe the number of acres is steadily increasing in the state each year because of the good retail market for growers.”
Barickman, who works at the MSU North Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Verona, said most of the pumpkins grown in Mississippi stay in the state.
“There are 27 registered pumpkin growers on Mississippi Market Maker, an online marketing resource,” Barickman said. “By my estimates, the number of growers is increasing because there are steady increases in the market for pumpkins and agritourism in the state.”
Pumpkin prices are set by the wholesale market, and prices fluctuate with the location and sizes of pumpkins. Growers and distributors set retail prices, and these can vary widely.
The 2017 growing season was challenging to the state’s producers.
“Pumpkin producers had favorable growing conditions for the first part of the season, but then things changed,” he said. “South Mississippi had wet and humid conditions from the hurricane season, while north Mississippi’s dry conditions gave way to good precipitation and increased humidity over the last couple of weeks.”
Barickman said these conditions increased the occurrence of diseases such as powdery mildew, Cercospora leaf spot and cucurbit downy mildew.
“Yields have not been affected because weather conditions early in the pumpkin growing season were favorable for vegetative growth and fruit set,” he said. “Producers who kept on an integrated pest management schedule maintained good pumpkin growth and quality, which means they sustained good yields.”
The number and size of pumpkins produced depends on the type grown. Barickman said a medium- to large-sized variety can yield between 1,800 and 2,300 pumpkins per acre, depending on the weather and pest and disease problems.
In Mississippi, growers plant pumpkin seeds in the field in late June to early July for harvest in mid- to late-September, depending on weather conditions and pumpkin variety.
“The main challenges for growers are maintaining good soil moisture for pumpkin fruit set and sizing, and managing pests and disease pressures,” Barickman said. “Pumpkin diseases can reduce the yield, size and quality of pumpkins very quickly if not prevented throughout the growing season.”
Dwight Colson and his wife, Jean, own Country Pumpkins in Lowndes County. They have been growing pumpkins since 2000 and have an agritourism business with a corn maze, hayride, pumpkin patch and more.
Since 2012, they have irrigated their 25 acres of pumpkins, which are planted in July after wheat harvest.
“We didn’t have as good a crop as we had last year, and we haven’t figured out why,” Colson said. “Last year was extremely hot, and we watered 11 times but had an excellent crop. This year, we haven’t watered that many times, but we haven’t had the production like before.”
Deer damaging and eating the fruit was this year’s biggest challenge, although Canada geese, groundhogs and wild hogs have caused losses in the past.
“It makes you sick to go through there and see the number of pumpkins damaged by the deer,” Colson said.
Pumpkin growers have a friend in MSU, as research and Extension programs continue to answer the questions many growers have with production issues. MSU is in its fourth year of pumpkin research, including evaluating many types of pumpkins for growers. View these research results at http://vegetablelab.mafes.msstate.edu.