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Pining for pumpkins

Because of drought, some Missouri pumpkin harvesters
are turning to out-of-state sources to pump up their patches
Wednesday, October 5, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:39 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Despite the shortage that has affected pumpkin growers, visitors to the annual Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival this weekend don’t have to worry. There will be enough pumpkins for the festival. The lack of rain plus the heat have meant hardships for pumpkin harvesters this growing season.

Normally, Jo and Norlan Hackman would be able to grow 60,000 pounds of pumpkin. This year, however, they were only able to grow half that.

“It’s been better than what we thought,” Jo Hackman said. “At first, we didn’t think we would have a crop at all, but now things are looking up. We had some pumpkins come on later that compensated for the ones that ripened early.”

The Hackmans provide most of the pumpkins for the Hartsburg festival, which attracts thousands of visitors each year to celebrate the harvest.

There has been a bad pumpkin crop for the last two years in Missouri and Illinois, according to Michael Niro of Nestle, a parent company of Libby’s Corp., which is one of the nation’s top canned pumpkin suppliers.

“This has been one of our most trying seasons,” Jo Hackman said.

Bruce Arnett, a pumpkin harvester in Boonville, said that by the end of this year’s buying season, he will have bought 50 percent more pumpkins from suppliers than in previous years.

“This year has been tough, really tough,” Arnett said.

This summer’s drought stunted pumpkin crops that usually are abundant.

[photo]

Summer drought and early frost have made pumpkins and harvests smaller at Peach Tree Farms, according to owner Bruce Arnett.

To grow to their fullest, pumpkins need plenty of water at the beginning of the ripening stage. If they don’t get enough, they ripen prematurely and will not keep long enough for the fall season.

It takes 65 to 70 days for small pumpkins to mature and 80 to 90 days for larger ones. Smaller pumpkins are normally used for cooking and larger pumpkins for carving.

Although there are plenty of pumpkins for retail customers and the festival, Jo Hackman said there are not enough for their wholesale consumers.

Alice Longfellow, owner of Longfellow’s Garden Center and the Hackmans’ largest wholesale consumer, has to buy pumpkins from another supplier this year. This is only the second time in 15 years that Longfellow has had to do so.

Since pumpkin availability has decreased, prices have increased.

Longfellow said her customers can expect to pay a dollar more for pumpkin varieties this year than last year.

“But no one has complained about the price of pumpkins to us,” Longfellow said. “Consumers are picking them up left and right.”

While there is an expected shortage of whole pumpkins, consumers will still be able to find canned pumpkin on supermarket shelves.

“We’re not expecting any shortage in canned pumpkin,” said Paul Simon of Schnucks, whose headquarters are in St. Louis.

— Missourian reporter Lauren Burke contributed to this report


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