Dry summer leads to bummer crop of pumpkins
Last summer's drought has sent local grocers looking farther to get the big pumpkins that customers want for Halloween. "We're having problems getting the quality and the sizing that we would like to get," said Howard Lehman, produce director for...
Last summer's drought has sent local grocers looking farther to get the big pumpkins that customers want for Halloween.
"We're having problems getting the quality and the sizing that we would like to get," said Howard Lehman, produce director for Super One Foods.
Super One stores typically get most of their pumpkins from the St. Cloud and Twin Cities areas. But this year's crop is so poor that Lehman has had to look farther -- to Michigan and as far away as Florida.
The cost to Super One is almost double over last year, but the retail price is only up 25 percent, with most selling for $2.98 to $3.98 each.
"We're not able to make the profit this year," Lehman said during a stop Tuesday at the Super One store in Duluth's Kenwood neighborhood.
The drought affected areas from Duluth to Alexandria, leaving northwestern and southern Minnesota with adequate rain during critical times for pumpkins, according to Brian Erickson, agriculture marketing specialist for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
"The central part of the state was dry during the growing months," he said. "So there are growers in the middle part of the state without irrigation that don't have a big crop this year. Growers in other parts of the state, where production was good, generally sell pumpkins to growers that didn't have good production. A lot of swapping is going on."
Two Northland growers -- Gene Eklin of rural Calumet and Lois Hoffbauer of rural Proctor -- say they got decent crops but small pumpkins.
Cub Foods in Duluth is still getting the basketball-size or larger pumpkins it demands because its growers in the St. Cloud area have been supplementing their supply with pumpkins from Indiana. The supply at Gordy's Gift and Garden in Hermantown is typical for the season because its pumpkins come from southern Minnesota.
The annual pumpkin sale at Asbury United Methodist Church in West Duluth is off this fall, but not because of a pumpkin shortage. Instead there was a misunderstanding about the desired delivery time with the non-profit group in New Mexico that supplies the pumpkins. Meanwhile, St. Michael's Church in Lakeside had no problems getting more than 1,000 pumpkins from the same group. Hundreds of pumpkins are stacked near the church, ready for sale, from $1 for three mini-pumpkins to $20 for jumbo ones.
Despite drought conditions in Northeastern Minnesota, two growers say they've got a decent pumpkin crop.
"It's probably a normal year," said Gene Eklin, owner of Nordic Ridge Pumpkin Patch in rural Calumet. "It's not my best ever, but it's not a disaster either."
That's because Eklin grows his pumpkins on black plastic.
"If you get a little rain, it conserves it tremendously," he said of the plastic. "Plastic saved me."
Without plastic or an irrigation system to replace it, Eklin said he would have "next to nothing."
Lois Hoffbauer of rural Proctor, who sells her pumpkins at local farmers markets, reported having a good year, despite the drought. She and her husband, Douglas, fared well without irrigation because they planted their pumpkins early and have a heavy sandy loam soil that didn't show the affects of the drought until August.
"By then, the fruit had set and was growing and the roots were deep enough to get moisture," she said. "In drought years, the roots will go deep."
Both Hoffbauer and Eklin report smaller pumpkins this year because of the drought.
Recent heavy rains, however, have resulted in some stem softening and rotting on pumpkins that were still outside, said Hoffbauer, adding "but it's probably no more than other years."
For reasons that escape him, Eklin had a bounty crop of ornamental gourds that he also grew on black plastic.
"I probably have more gourds than I can sell," he said. "It's just dumb luck."