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Mother Nature Knocks Out State's Pumpkins
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Extremely high temperatures and dry conditions combined to deliver the knockout blow to Mississippi's 1999 commercial pumpkin crop.
Dr. David Nagel, horticulturist with Mississippi State University Extension Service, said after growers planted pumpkins from late June through July, rain almost never fell in the North Mississippi fields.
"Although the southern half of the state had adequate moisture, the high temperatures prevented fruit set. Even if they were irrigated, pumpkins do not pollinate well when the air temperatures are above 100 degrees," Nagel said. "For the northern half, the drought just compounded the problem."
Pumpkins did set fruit when temperatures fell to normal levels in late August, but jack-o'-lanterns are not worth much money the day after Halloween.
Nagel said jack-o'-lantern pumpkins should be the size of golf balls by Sept. 1. Most Mississippi pumpkins were slightly smaller, about 1 inch in diameter.
"Locally grown pumpkins will be scarce this fall, but the traditional pumpkin growing regions of the country are expecting a normal crop," Nagel said. "Mississippi usually imports more than half of its pumpkins from states such as Colorado, Texas, Indiana and Illinois."
Nagel said he does not expect prices to be influenced by the lack of local pumpkins.
Unfortunately, 1999 was a year Mississippi pumpkin growers increased their commercial acreage to 600 acres, Nagel said.
For Yalobusha County grower Walt Moore, 1999 may be his first and last year to attempt to grow pumpkins.
"I was told that you'll succeed with pumpkins about one out of three years; this just wasn't our year," Moore said. "We took a gamble and like with every other crop, we lost."
Moore said he hopes to get half a crop, but on a recent walk-through, he only found four pumpkins in a 20 acre field.
"If you hit, you hit, if you miss, you miss. We missed," Moore said.