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Pumpkin harvest proves fruitful
By John Hawkins
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- This year's pumpkin harvest proved fruitful, despite challenges from insects, disease and rain.
One vegetable many wouldn't normally consider growing in Mississippi's sweltering fields is the pumpkin. Not many growers in the state raise pumpkins, and the few who do grow them usually produce only a few acres. For these growers, raising a successful harvest can have its challenges.
"Raising pumpkins can be unpredictable. A major factor in the health of a crop is how much rain a field gets. A field that either receives a lot of rain or doesn't drain well will be susceptible to fungus or rot. Also, some fields may have serious virus problems, some may not. This is due to the fact that many viruses are carried by insects, which vary in how and when they attack crops," said David Nagel, horticulture specialist for Mississippi State University's Extension Service.
Grenada County pumpkin grower Marshal Estess said insects such as caterpillars and squash bugs are a large problem when growing pumpkins. If these pests attack early in the growing season when the pumpkins are still young, the effects can be detrimental. An attack by insects later in the growing season finds the pumpkins more resistant, with thicker skins.
"This is the second year we have grown pumpkins, and this crop has turned out pretty good. We grew two acres of pumpkins, and have been able to harvest around 2,000. We got rain when we needed it, and we didn't have problems with insects until late in the season when most of the pumpkins were already ripening," Estess said
The benefits of having a crop like pumpkins can be numerous for a farmer like Estess, who also makes a living raising cattle and corn.
"One advantage of raising pumpkins is they serve as a good rotation crop for other field plants such as corn. They are also a good cash crop. We are starting to see a lot of interest here locally, and also with market buyers from other parts of the state like the coast," Estess said.
Steve Winters, Grenada County Extension director, said vegetables such as pumpkins can be a chance for growers to diversify, but with the added diversity comes some risks.
"Pumpkins can be more of a gamble than the standard row crop. Anytime you get into vegetable production, it involves more labor and more expense for supplies such as seed," Winters said.
Although there are challenges and drawbacks involved, for growers such as Estess, the risks so far seem to be paying off.
"Next season, we are hoping to move up from planting two acres to six or seven. This year, if I had planted 20 acres, I could have sold them all," Estess said.