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State's pumpkin growers hurt by disease, summer rain

farm_rgbACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Pumpkins are popping up on porches across Mississippi, but some growers had trouble getting them there.

Many Mississippi pumpkin farmers experienced heavy disease pressure and a delayed harvest due to frequent summer rains.

Growers planted more acres this year, but harvested fewer pumpkins than usual, said Stanley Wise, Union County agriculture and natural resource enterprise and community development agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

“Our yield is down by about 30 percent compared to past years as a result of the increased rain we got during the growing season, but pumpkin size is above average,” said Wise, who frequently works with the agritourism businesses where many pumpkin producers market their crops.

Growers try to have pumpkins ready by mid-September, in time for fall decorating, jack-o-lantern carving and pumpkin patch visitors, Wise said.

“Many of our pumpkins were not ready until after Oct. 1, so some growers purchased out-of-state to get their season started,” he said.

Downy mildew threatened the crop in late August, said Alan Henn, plant pathologist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

“Not all growers were affected, but those who were had to make several applications of fungicide, which is very expensive,” Henn said.

One producer said his family-run agritourism business in Collins had a very good year. Don Mitchell of Mitchell Farms reported that his pumpkins had limited disease and insect problems.

“I’d take a year like this anytime,” he said. “We didn’t really have any major problems due to disease. We had worms get in the field about a month ago, but we sprayed and are still picking pumpkins.”

Visitors to Mitchell Farms are given pumpkins when they take the farm tour, but the agritourism market is a popular sales venue as well.

“Mississippi pumpkin farms are mostly small operations, selling within the state through retailers, farmers markets and on-farm sales,” said Alba Collart, agricultural economist with the MSU Extension Service. “And an increasing number of growers are targeting the agritourism market.”

Twenty-six Mississippi pumpkin growers are registered with Mississippi Market Maker, an Internet mapping tool that connects food producers with consumers in the U.S. The most recent statistics show producers in the state grew an estimated 500 to 600 acres of pumpkins in 2012. Collart said that number has remained steady in recent years.

Wholesale and retail prices in the Southeast have dropped slightly from 2013, she said. Howden-type pumkins are selling for average wholesale prices between $3.11 and $4.67 each, depending on size. In 2013, they sold for $3.49 to $5.23.

Large pumpkins retail for an average of $4.40 in 2014, down from $5.50 last year. Medium, pie-type pumpkins are selling for about $1.79 each or 96 cents per pound. Miniature pumpkins are retailing for 63 cents each or $1.32 per pound.

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