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Summer drought yields varying results for Iowa pumpkin patches

BY BRIANNA JETT | OCTOBER 02, 2012 6:30 AM

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This summer’s drought left farmers all over the nation grappling with crop damage — however, when it comes to pumpkins, the results are just the opposite.

As the negative effects from the heat continue to ricochet across the Midwest, a few positive effects are taking the form of large, orange vegetables. For many farms in the Midwest, the drought actually benefited this year’s pumpkin crop.

“We have certainly the best crop of pumpkins we’ve ever grown here,” said Paul Rasch, the owner of Wilson’s Orchard in Iowa City.

This sentiment echoed through Indiana and Illinois.

“Pumpkins love it dry, and we’ve had the best pumpkins we’ve seen in many years," said Sue Murdock of Goebbert’s Farm and Garden Center in South Barrington, Ill.

Rasch detected little negative effects from the drought in his pumpkin patch.

“It just seemed that the plants grew right through the drought,” he said.

In fact, the drought seems to have helped the pumpkins survive.

“Pumpkins like heat,” Rasch said. “The drought kept disease down and insect pressure down.”

Officials at Curtis Orchard in Champaign, Ill., are seeing similar results.

“Because of the drought, we didn’t have to worry about powdery mildew,” said Chris Curtis, a spokesman for Curtis Orchard.

Kathleen Delate, a professor of agronomy and horticulture at Iowa State University, noted that diseases need moisture to survive.

“We had a very low disease rate because there wasn’t that high moisture that diseases love,” Delate said.

However, not all pumpkin patches fared so well. Honey Creek Acres of Swisher did not see a good year.

“One of our fields was hit really hard by the drought,” said Mike Pilarczyk, the owner of Honey Creek.

He estimates this year’s crop dropped around 50 percent, compared with an average year, because of the drought.

“They need water,” Pilarczyk said.

Ajay Nair, a professor of horticulture at Iowa State University, said the high heat combined with lack of water was detrimental.

“Growers did have a hard time growing pumpkins this year due to excessive heat and drought conditions,” he wrote in an email. “Pumpkins started well with an early and warm spring ,but lack of adequate rainfall affected growth, development, and yields.”

Delate believes the great difference between the two Iowa farms, only 20 miles apart, is due to the lack of uniformity in this summer’s rainfall.

“It’s very variable, depending on where you live and how much rain you get,” Delate said. “Some [farms] had a good crop, some had a 10-20 percent lower crop.”

For many farms, the benefits of the drought were only realized if they were able to irrigate.

“Irrigation systems are very expensive. Very effective but too expensive,” Pilarczyk, said, who was unable to provide irrigation to his fields.

For only the second time in Curtis Orchard’s history, it used an irrigation system on this summer’s pumpkins. Huber’s Orchard and Winery in Borden, Ind., also implemented an irrigation system despite the increased effort. Both farms report the best crop they have ever seen.

“Irrigation will definitely increase yields,” Delate said.

Wilson’s Orchard applied irrigation systems to only about half of its pumpkins and reported no difference in the crop yield of either section.

“When it’s dry, we see great pumpkins, and when it’s wet — that’s when we see disease and smaller sizes,” Murdock said.


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