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State Pumpkin Yields Drop As Prices Rise
By Bethany Waldrop Keiper
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippians looking for state-grown pumpkins for Halloween jack o'lanterns or Thanksgiving pies will find shorter supplies and higher prices this year.
Consumers can expect pumpkins to wear a price tag ranging from 50 cents to $1 higher than last year. Due to short supplies of state-grown pumpkins, many of the pumpkins available locally have been shipped into Mississippi from southern Canada and the high plains of Texas.
Mike Skipper, Winston County agent, said state-grown pumpkins have quickly sold out at high prices.
"Every pumpkin grown in the county has been sold. The crop is made and all sold out," Skipper said. "Prices to growers have been good, ranging from $2.50 to $4.50 per pumpkin."
Mississippi pumpkin acreage has steadily dropped over the past few years. For 1995, the state has 474 acres of pumpkins -- down 100 acres from 1994 and down 200 acres from 1992.
Dr. David Nagel, extension horticulturist at Mississippi State University, said the cucurbit virus complex, which consists of several viruses spread by insects, has contributed heavily to the drop in acreage.
"Yalobusha and Grenada counties used to be the top pumpkin producers in Mississippi, but several years of almost total yield losses to viruses have caused growers to look to other crops," Nagel said.
The top pumpkin producing counties in the state are now Winston and Marshall counties, with 120 acres and 64 acres, respectively.
In Winston County, pumpkin yields are averaging 17,000 pounds per acre, down about 30 percent from the past few years.
Pumpkin yields are low across the state.
"Dry weather and high temperatures severely affected fruit set this year," Nagel said. "The weather, combined with poor pollination of the plants, led to the reduced yields for 1995."
The horticulturist attributes the poor pollination of the pumpkin flowers to low wild honeybee populations in Mississippi.
Dr. James Jarratt, extension entomologist at MSU, said tracheal mites and varroa mites affected the bee population, with noticeably low numbers of both wild and tame honeybees this year.