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Local pumpkin growers reporting strong harvest, sales

October 11, 2012
By JOHN BORGOLINI , The Leader Herald

A hot, dry summer caused some farmers' crops to suffer this year, but at least one crop benefited from the weather - pumpkins.

In Fulton and Montgomery counties, farmers and orchards are profiting from plump and plentiful pumpkins, squash and gourds, thanks to the dry weather that helps keep the fungi and diseases off the colorful crops.

"They like the hot weather," said Todd Rogers of Rogers Family Orchards in Johnstown. "The pumpkin crop is beautiful. We've been selling a lot this year."

Article Photos

Friends Jamie Smith, left, and Noella Lafreniere, both of Rotterdam, visit the Sand Flats Orchard on Martin Road in Fonda to pick pumpkins Tuesday.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan

Jim Hoffman of Fonda's Sand Flats Orchards said his pumpkin sales are helping to offset losses in apple sales.

"People are pretty happy with what they're bringing out of our field," he said. "And that's really helped us in a year that's hurt us with our low apple crops. The unseasonably warm weather in March forced our apple trees to bloom early, and then a seasonable frost cost us a lot of them."

Over the past couple of years, local pumpkin sales have been hurt by rainy summers, including 2011's tropical storm drenching.

New York state's pumpkin crop worth dropped from $35 million in 2010 to $23.6 million in 2011.

Rogers said he could have sold more pumpkins last year, but a lot were lost due to the wet weather.

This year, pumpkins are back as Halloween approaches.

Local pumpkin sellers generally are charging from $6 to $8 for the smaller pumpkins or $10 to $15 for larger ones.

"Many people like to have a nice, big carving pumpkin," Hoffman said. "They can either choose one or pick one from our field. Much of what we do here is about the family experience in taking them on the wagon out to the field and picking [the pumpkins] themselves. There's much to be said about taking them out to our field."

At Rogers Family Orchards, Fultonville native Michael O'Dockerty sat in his vehicle picking out a pumpkin for his grandson, days after he and his wife brought their granddaughter to pick one herself to carve for a jack-o'-lantern.

"We just try to pick out one with a nice face size," he said. "These are pretty well shaped."

The pumpkin crop has been strong across the state and nation this year.

In other parts of the country, drought forced thousands of ranchers to sell off cattle because pastures were too dry to graze, and corn and soybean farmers watched their plants wither in the summer sun.

Farmer John Ackerman of Morton, Ill., said most of the pumpkins he planted fared "fantastic" for a simple, single reason: Pumpkins dig dry weather.

"Pumpkins have been kind of a bright spot in production this year," said Ackerman.

Pathology may help explain why pumpkins coped better than most crops at beating the heat. A relative of squashes, cucumbers, watermelons and cantaloupe, pumpkins tend to thrive in warm, temperate climates that stave off fungus, mold and other rind-rotting diseases that spread in wet conditions, said Dan Egel, a plant pathologist with Purdue University's extension.

Also, pumpkins grown from seeds - the most common way - have tremendous root systems that reach deep into the ground, enabling them to reach moisture that corn and other crops without taproots cannot find.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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