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Growers report weather challenges

Local farmers say selection good, but no bumper crop

Mirror photo by Walt Frank Tessa Alessi-Sierra (back, left), Lorelei Alessi-Sierra and Zepyhr Alessi-Bookhammer (front) pick out some pumpkins at the JB Tree Farm near Alexandria.

Area pumpkin growers are giving mixed reviews on this year’s crop.

“The small stuff and gourds didn’t do very well. The big pumpkins, the ones for carving jack-o’-lanterns, we had an excellent crop but did not achieve the size I like. I like the ones where you have to grunt to pick them up. They are not the 30- to 40-pound range I like to see. I would say overall it was an average crop,” said Jim Benshoff, co-owner of Benshoff Farms in New Germany.

“We grow small pumpkins, we have a lot of them here. I would say our crop is average this year, some vines didn’t have a large number on them this year. Some of the plants died early, but that didn’t affect the quality of the fruit,” said Evelyn Bookhammer, co-owner of JB Tree Farm on Route 22 near Alexandria. “I would have liked to have a bumper crop, but I don’t. The quality is good.”

Amy Rose, co-owner of Rose Family Farm, Cessna, also said they had an average crop.

“Ninety-five percent of our crop is already sold and gone. They came in early this year maybe because of the warm weather. I would say it was an average crop. We still had nice pumpkins. They were not as big as sometimes,” said Rose, who specializes in the large carving pumpkins and smaller pie pumpkins.

Pumpkin growing is a big business in Pennsylvania.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, in 2017 farmers in the top 16 pumpkin-producing states harvested 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins, implying about 2 billion pounds harvested nationally.

Pennsylvania ranks first among the states in the number of pumpkin-producing farms and fifth among the states in pumpkin production. The economic value of Pennsylvania-grown pumpkins was just more than $13 million, according to NASS.

Some early wet weather caused some problems for growers.

“We heard from some pumpkin growers in several areas of the state, such as the northeast and southwest, who had challenges early in the planting season due to excessive rainfall. Some of the growers chose not to plant some ground, while others did plant and lost some of their crop due to too much water that collected in the fields,” said Pennsylvania Farm Bureau spokesman Mark O’Neill.

“Wet weather caused more weed pressure and diseases early, but the drier weather has caused the crop to finish nicely. The only disease of concern for most growers was powdery mildew resulting in a few more cover sprays to pumpkin fields for area farmers,” said Thomas G. Ford, commercial horticulture educator for Penn State Extension.

Benshoff said the wet weather caused him some problems.

“We had an extremely wet spring. We had some of the most beautiful weeds you would ever see. Every time we cultivated, it rained. We had trouble with weed control, you couldn’t tell it was a pumpkin field, it looked like a jungle,” Benshoff said.

Powdery mildew also was a problem.

“It affects the plants and the stems, and no one wants a pumpkin without a stem. We spray for diseases every week. These diseases are phenomenal,” Benshoff said.

Benshoff said he plants early.

“We have people who come in late August looking for pumpkins. You need to stay ahead of the curve in this business. We always plant in the middle of May,” Benshoff said.

Although many said their pumpkins came early this year, many will be available for Halloween.

Despite some weather issues, the supply and quality of the pumpkins is good.

“The supply to the Morrison’s Cove Produce auction has been strong early. Quality has been excellent. There is also a good assortment of specialty pumpkins on the market — white, warted, mini, large, pie types,” Ford said

“If consumers are looking to buy a decorative pumpkin for the fall season, there should be plenty of them available at farm markets, roadside stands and in your local supermarket,” O’Neill said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.

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