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Better late than never

Better late than never

Drier conditions, recent rain prevent another year of poor pumpkin yields

September 25th, 2017 by Philip Joens in Local News

A pumpkin is seen growing at Fischer Farms. This has proven to be a better year for pumpkins than the last few, thanks to a mostly dry summer and recent rain.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

As pumpkin farmers around the region prepare for the fall harvest, they're reporting good crops after two down years.

Farmers said wetter than normal conditions the past two years hurt pumpkin crops. While pumpkins need water, farmers said too much water hurts them. Dry conditions in the middle of the summer made this year's pumpkins smaller, though.

Jay Fischer, who farms a couple thousand acres of row crops and operates a business selling pumpkins and watermelons northeast of Jefferson City, said pumpkin crops this year haven't been record-breaking. They are better than crops full of smaller pumpkins the past two years, though.

"It's not over the top, but it's average," Fischer said. "I don't think I'm to that point where I'm hurt."

Jo Hackman owns a pumpkin farm near Hartsburg and said anything is a welcome change.

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"Last year, we could hardly get them in the ground it was so wet," Hackman said. "It's very good compared to what we had recently."

Pumpkins ready for Halloween are typically planted in early summer, from late May through part of June. Last May, areas around Jefferson City had anywhere from 2-4 more inches of rain than normal, according to the National Weather Service.

Hackman said dry and hot conditions plagued the 2015 pumpkin crop. In August 2015, areas around Hartsburg received between a half-inch and 2 inches less rain than normal, according to weather service data.

"In 2015, it was so dry, it just burnt up the field," Hackman said.

Areas around Jefferson City received anywhere from a half-inch to 7 inches more rain than normal this August. Fischer said the rain helped pumpkins grow a lot but also created disease issues.

"Pumpkins need water, but they don't like their feet wet all the time because it creates a lot of disease issues," Fischer said. "You have to kill the fungus, or there won't be any pumpkins. I've probably had to spray more fungicides this year than I've normally had to."

While pumpkins need plenty of water, he said, the timing is crucial. On Sept. 12, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said all of Callaway County and parts of northeastern Cole County were "abnormally dry," which is the first phase in its five-phase drought monitor.

The dry conditions in July set pumpkins back and made them smaller overall. Last Monday's rain brought anywhere from a half-inch to three-quarters of an inch of rain to areas around Jefferson City. Fischer said the rain came too late to increase the size of pumpkins much.

"A pumpkin is 80 percent water, so it takes water to pump them up and make them big," Fischer said. "We didn't get that because they were getting to their final stages it was really dry. The rain helped, but it came about 10 days too late."