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Pumpkins' Spooky Year Means Scarce Harvest
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The success of the 1998 pumpkin crop depended on the availability of August rains or irrigation. For most growers, this wasn't their year.
Pumpkins grow best in dry and warm (but not hot) conditions, said Dr. David Nagel, Extension horticulturist at Mississippi State University.
"They are drought tolerant, but not that tolerant. They aren't desert plants," Nagel said. "Two of the state's pumpkin growers who irrigate had a great year, but the rest of the growers were lucky if they had an average year."
Nagel said about one-third of the state's pumpkin crop was bad. The 1996 crop was the best in recent years. Growers did not have to contend with the disease and insect pressures of past years.
About 600 acres of Mississippi farmland are used to commercially grow pumpkins each year. Not typically grown in home gardens because of the land needed, commercial pumpkin farms are spread out around the state with no dominant area or county.
"Most pumpkins raised in Mississippi are sold in the state, but more are needed. To meet the large demand created by Halloween, Mississippians must import a lot of pumpkins also," Nagel said. Imported pumpkins come mostly from Colorado, Texas, Indiana and Illinois.
Steve Cummings, Yalobusha County agent, said pumpkins are slowly making a comeback in his county. Growers have rotated other crops in their pumpkin fields in recent years.
"Growers are looking to grow pumpkins instead of cotton. Pumpkin is a high-dollar crop. If cotton prices stay down, more growers will turn to pumpkins," Cummings said. "Pumpkins are good to follow after harvest with wheat as a double crop."
Nagel offered these tips for picking the perfect Halloween pumpkin.
Look at the top and bottom of the pumpkin. The stem should be corky in the middle. After sitting on the ground, the bottom may be weak.
"Make sure the pumpkin is firm all over. If it is already soft, it will only get softer. Choose a pumpkin that looks healthy, not dull," Nagel said.
If you want a pumpkin for cooking purposes, look for a pumpkin that is heavy for its size. Nagel also suggested waiting until after the Halloween rush. Prices should go down slightly around Nov. 1.