After a soggy spring and relentless rainfall you might expect to have trouble finding those chubby porch pumpkins or rotund carvers, a seasonal staple across the Lehigh Valley.
And, in fact, some farmers are reporting smaller harvests. But Josh Grim, owner of Grim’s Orchard and Family Farms in Upper Macungie Township, said his pumpkin supply is doing fine.
“We rented 16 acres in Kempton that had never been used for pumpkins. It was on a hillside slope with good drainage. We did as good as any other good year,” Grim said.
Pumpkins are big business. In 2016 an estimated 1.4 billion pounds of the Cucurbita pepo, or pumpkin, a member of the squash family were harvested, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Sixteen states grow the bulk of the nation’s pumpkins. Pennsylvania is among them.
Locally several factors made the difference for farmers who count on pumpkins to round out the growing and selling season.
Field drainage and spraying for disease and insects were among the top causes for pumpkin patch success or failure this year.
Grim said he also sprayed more than he usually needs to – for disease and insects.
So did Donald Savidge of Savidge Farms LLC in Longswamp Township, Berks County. Savidge said his crop didn’t sustain any more losses than in other years.
“Our pumpkin crop is OK, but we did about 25 percent more in spray treatments, and spent about $15,000 in [sprays] to keep them going,” Savidge said.
He’ll harvest about 9,000 pounds of pumpkins across two fields this year.
Savidge said he is seeing an uptick in his wholesale business that probably stems from farmers who didn’t fare as well as he did.
Savidge said he’d heard of some Mennonite farmers in Berks County who lost entire crops.
“We’re doing our best not to raise prices above what we’d planned before the season started,” Savidge added.
A MATTER OF TIME
The larger the pumpkin, the more time it needs on the vine to grow. That long growing season is capped by a few precious weeks from the end of September through October.
Grim said weather is crucial to a successful harvest and sales. “We have to have the crop [grown] and we need great weather in October for the corn maize and pick-your-own pumpkins, for the agritainment we offer. You’ve got to have both,” Grim said.
Other area farmers didn’t fare as well this year.
“We planted five rows of pumpkins and lost four of them this year,” said Theresa Hadley, owner of Bottoms Up Produce in New Tripoli. Hadley said powdery white mildew and insects were worse this year and that many vines “rotted on the ground.”
Hadley said in the spring she saw uncertain weather coming and didn’t plant a large pumpkin crop this year. She’ll find a way to make up the lost revenue.
“Pumpkins are our big push at the end of the season for a little more money to ready the equipment, the tractors and the greenhouses before the winter. This year we have less, but we’ll find it. It won’t ruin us,” Hadley said.
In Lower Milford Township, Hausman Fruit Farm still offers its pick-your-own times and will be running its annual pumpkin patch school tours.
Keith Hausman, a third-generation farmer, said this year his pumpkin harvest was at least 15 percent off.
“The pumpkins didn’t pollinate, and then when they did it was too wet. There was nowhere for the water to go, so they rotted,” he said.
Hausman said he’s never seen a season like this summer, and his orchard peaches and apples suffered, too.
Even more worrisome is the uncertain impact of spotted lanternfly infestations and the damage they do to orchard fruits and crops.
“They are everywhere. You see the tops of trees already defoliated,” Hausman said.