Lots of pumpkins despite local shortage

Posted 9/27/11

‘Tis the season for pumpkin picking, and despite a major pumpkin shortage that has the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management asking for disaster assistance, there will still be …

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Lots of pumpkins despite local shortage


‘Tis the season for pumpkin picking, and despite a major pumpkin shortage that has the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management asking for disaster assistance, there will still be plenty of pumpkins for the passing.

The nationwide shortage of pumpkins has sellers shipping in crops from as far away as New Mexico and Canada, but local farmers are promising to keep up the quality of their seasonal festivities.

Vinny Confreda, owner and operator of Confreda Farms, said that there is definitely a shortage, but “there are still enough to go around.” Warwick farmers John and Cindy Morris of Morris Farms grew a few of their own sweet pumpkins that they supplemented with 40,000 pounds of pumpkins from Pennsylvania Dutch country. Some Morris pumpkins are on sale now with the traditional seasonal display opening this Friday. The Morris corn maze with a theme of Warwick history also opens this Friday.

John Morris said costs are up about 10 cents a pound with the sugar pumpkins fetching 89 cents a pound and the larger ones used for carving selling for 59 cents a pound.

Confreda lost two out of four pumpkin fields, but he said he still has plenty for retail customers planning to pick their own.

“We’re urging people to get their pumpkins early,” said Confreda. “There are usually leftovers, but there won’t be this year.”

Confreda explained that Tropical Storm Irene and the following winds and rains had a lot to do with why half his crop didn’t survive.

“When the storm came through the winds and rain brought disease from the south,” he said. “It also blew away a lot of the leaves, and the pumpkins weren’t able to get the necessary nutrients.”

When the second storm blew through, said Confreda, the grounds, which were already wet, became even more saturated, causing a spread of disease and mold.

Kristen Castrataro, URI’s Agricultural Extension Agent, said Irene probably had a lot to do with the failing pumpkin crop.

“Heavy winds and rains with salt beat up on leaves and they tended to die sooner,” she said, explaining that coastal communities saw a greater impact to their crop, which received a greater amount of salt spray.

“Pollination could have been another factor,” said Castrataro, who said the hot weather early in the season might have had a negative affect on initial growth.

Ken Ayars, Chief of the RIDEM Department of Agriculture, said the growing season was a good one, with the exception of Irene. However, even with the impacts felt here in Rhode Island, Ayars said other states like New York and Massachusetts got it worse.

“There was field flooding in New York,” said Ayars. “There were no reports of field flooding in Rhode Island.”

Still, Ayars said some farms reported significant losses.

“We do have sufficient crop losses across the state to request a disaster declaration,” he explained. “There has been at least a 30 percent loss in one crop in each county. The declaration could potentially make U.S. Department of Agriculture programs more available.”

But it wasn’t the pumpkin crop that was most severely affected by Irene. In Kent County, sweet corn took a hit by 30 percent. In other counties it was peppers, tomatoes, apples, peaches and even eggplant.

Confreda said he lost more than 80 acres of corn, along with his entire pepper crop. John Morris said the winds beat down his corn crop, making picking difficult. But Confreda still has enough corn to open his corn maze and haunted trail on Friday. It’s the wholesale side that Confreda says will take a hit.

“Right now, I’m off by about 75 percent,” he said.

“I’m normally picking tremendously,” said Confreda of his lost pepper crop. “About 400 to 600 bushels. But we lost the whole crop.”

Confreda said the DEM’s disaster declaration would open up the possibility for farmers to receive low-interest loans. The declaration of a disaster would also allow farmers to collect their crop insurance.

Confreda said the insurance would only cover about 50 percent of the crop costs, but it would help to pay off some loans.

“Basically, you borrow money, like any other business, for seeds and such,” said Confreda, “and then you wait until the fall. You don’t know what’s going to happen.”

What happened this year, said Confreda, was a storm that hit at the peak of the growing season.

Castrataro said the pumpkins that have survived are turning out nicely. The typical orange pumpkin will still be in abundance, with specialty pumpkins possibly being a bit harder to find, since they’re more sensitive to growing condition. According to specialists and farmers alike, despite the shortage, consumers shouldn’t be worried about picking a pumpkin this year.

“The product I’ve been seeing is beautiful,” said Castrataro.


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