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Drought robs pumpkin patches without irrigation
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Consumers may have trouble scaring up pumpkins for holiday decorations this fall.
David Nagel, horticulturist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said most growers whose fields were already dry at planting time chose not to plant any pumpkins this year if they did not have access to irrigation. Some growers with nonirrigated farms took the chance if their fields received some rain around the first of July and now are harvesting significantly reduced yields.
“On the other hand, people with irrigated fields are having a very good year,” Nagel said. “If you have access to water, you want a drought. Pumpkins tend to be a very risky crop to grow. The large leaves on pumpkin vines are susceptible to fungal and viral diseases, and dry weather inhibits the movement of these diseases.”
Insects, which contribute to the spread of viral diseases, were not as common during the drought.
“Clear skies, bright sunshine, dry air and no rain were all factors that contributed to reduced disease pressure,” Nagel said. “Normally, pumpkin fields need to be sprayed with fungicides on a seven- to 10-day schedule. Dry years allow for significantly fewer treatments.”
Nagel said almost 600 acres were planned for pumpkins in Mississippi, but the actual planted acreage was closer to 400. Only about 20 percent of those acres were irrigated.
Mel Ellis of Mayhew Tomato Farm in Lowndes County is harvesting 4 acres of pumpkins for the first time this year. He said access to water made this a good year to venture into the pumpkin business. He is one of the few growers in the area to produce a crop.
“This was my year to determine the best spacing and a pesticide program. We planted three varieties of jack-o'-lanterns,” Ellis said. “We hope to at least double our acreage next year and add several varieties.”
Ellis' goal is to have at least 80 percent of his crop sold before Halloween. His pumpkins range from $3 to $10, depending on the size.
“The prices for pumpkins are very good this year because it wasn't just a local dry spell; it was dry throughout the Pumpkin Belt -- from the High Plains of Texas through the Midwest,” Nagel said. “Wholesale pumpkins are about $2,000 per acre, and you can double that price for retail.”
Yalobusha County Extension director Steve Cummings said that area's crop may be down by as much as 60 percent. If plants came up at all in the almost 60 acres of nonirrigated fields, many did not set fruit because of drought stress.
“The good news was that it did not cost as much to control insects and diseases this year,” Cummings said. “The pumpkins that did mature are of good quality.”