With VIDEO - Farmers soldier on with their pumpkin patches, despite rough weather.
Some farmers around the state are blaming rainy weather for a tough season harvesting pumpkins. As a result, you might pay extra for yours.
Stewart Ramsey, owner of Ramsey’s Farm in Wilmington and president of New Castle County Farm Bureau, said he estimates a yield less than half the usual on the 12 acres of u-pick pumpkins he grows, because of the bad weather.
At Fifer Orchards in Camden-Wyoming, Michael Fennemore said their farm has harvested more pumpkins this year. But down the road at T.S. Smith & Sons in Bridgeville, Matt Smith said they’re relying more on pumpkins they’ve had to purchase.
In Wilmington, Ramsey usually buys pumpkins from other farms to help supplement his losses, he said. But this year he’ll need to buy extra because of the frequent rainfall, humidity and deer that have damaged his crops.
A portion of his pumpkins will come from Lancaster, Pa. That trickle-down effect means he’ll have to charge customers a little more, he said.
The Wilmington farmer acknowledges customers can sometimes buy cheaper pumpkins from major retailers like Walmart, rather than directly from a farmer.
The reason that’s possible is because retailers negotiate the price from farmers during the middle of the summer, before either side knows if there’s going to be a pumpkin problem.
Sometimes these deals favor the farmer, and sometimes they don’t, Ramsey said.
Damper on pumpkin parade
Planted in June, the main pumpkin harvest is Oct. 1 to Oct. 25. Frequent wetness and lots of humidity are bad because it can cause disease for the crop.
But harsh weather for pumpkin season isn’t anything new to farmers. The weather has been rough for Ramsey and other farmers in surrounding states for the last two years, he said.
“There’s always ups and downs,” the Wilmington farmer said. “In 2016, I had a big enough crop that we had a lot of leftovers at the end of the season. We didn’t have to buy hardly any pumpkins and we had great sales.”
Though the tide has turned, he said he’ll certainly have pumpkins for his customers like he always has, because he never runs out. Having pumpkins is a sales necessity each year, since his farm makes half of its profit from agritourism.
Part of that includes having activities in the fall for families to enjoy, such as pumpkin painting, he said.
Buying more pumpkins
Smith, president of T.S. Smith & Sons in Bridgeville, said it’s been a few years since his farm has had good luck harvesting pumpkins as well.
Smith said with their pumpkin patch, which is around five acres, the poor weather has caused them to scale back considerably, in favor of buying more pumpkins from other farms, including Dickerson Farms in Laurel and Evans Farms in Bridgeville.
Despite the weather, Smith said it’s key for his farm to have pumpkins for sale each fall, especially since carving Jack-O-Lanterns is still a big tradition for families.
Big crops in Kent County
Fennemore, owner/operator of Fifer Orchards in Camden-Wyoming, said there’s a sense of security families get when they buy pumpkins directly from a pumpkin patch, because they can ask the farmers questions.
“When they can get the pumpkins straight from the farm, they can be assured they are fresh picked and will have the most longevity,” Fennemore said.
Fifer Orchards offers around 500 acres of u-pick pumpkins. Though it’s been pretty rainy the last few years, Fennemore said he’s harvested more pumpkins this year than he did this time in 2017.
“We have a big crop of pumpkins out in our fields this year,” he said. “It’s been a challenging season with the wet weather. But all in all, we’ve been very fortunate to have a good crop.”
Success with harvest depends on a few variables.
One is based on how flat someone’s farmland is. A farm on sloped land produces more runoff, which can prevent the ground from accumulating puddles, Ramsey said. Again, pumpkins don’t like wet ground.
Smith said rain showers can be hit or miss.
“With the weather we had this year, you could live on one side of Bridgeville (where I live) and receive an inch of rain; and on the other side of Bridgeville, you can receive two inches of rain,” he said.
Since farmers can’t control the weather, they’ll essentially do what they’ve done the last few years: cross their fingers and hope for the best.