The great pumpkin shortage of 2010: Reality or rumor

Dave Renick, owner or Renick’s Family Market in Pickaway County, said 2010 was a fairly good year for pumpkins and 2009 was even better.
By Matt Reese

Rumors are flying that have bakers in a panic. Anxious homemakers are nervously flitting among grocery aisles only to have their hopes dashed. Dark tales are being told in the backrooms of bakeries. Could it be true? Is there a great pie pumpkin shortage of 2010?
Whether real or perceived, there has been a fair amount of discussion in some pumpkin-loving circles about a short crop of pie pumpkins in 2009 resulting in a limited supply of canned pumpkin for 2010. Does this mean no pumpkin doughnuts, no pumpkin rolls no (heaven forbid) pumpkin pies this fall?
Though she had heard the rumors, Linda Ballou, who is on the Baked Goods Committee for the famous Circleville Pumpkin Show this week, said there was plenty of pumpkin for her purposes this year. Entries of pumpkin baked items were off a bit at the 2010 Pumpkin Show, but not likely due to a lack of pumpkins.
“I go to Carnival Foods here in town and they have a huge display of canned pumpkins,” Ballou said. “We have a lot of pies here and we have had a problem getting those small foil pie tins, but not pumpkins. There may be places around the country where there is a shortage, but here, there are plenty of pumpkins to go around.”
Dave Renick, owner or Renick’s Family Market in Pickaway County (just up the road form Circleville), said 2010 was a fairly good year for pumpkins and 2009 was even better. Renick grows around 30 acres of pumpkins each year and said that, while the heat was tough on pumpkins this summer, good management resulted in a good crop on the farm.
Renick’s family has a long history of direct marketing farm products from the land. His parents settled on the farm after World War II and were soon selling sweet corn and peas to a local cannery. In the late 1950s they opened a roadside stand that has evolved into the thriving market on U.S. Route 23 featuring a wide variety of locally grown and made goodies and family oriented activities. Renick has been growing pumpkins for more than 20 years and the crop has become a key item for the fall market.
Renick said that there are four key management areas with pumpkins — water, air, diseases/insects and fertility.
“If you just mange two or three of those things right, you might not get a pumpkin crop at all,” Renick said. “If you can manage all four of those things, you can get through most of the extremes that come along.”
All of the pumpkins are on trickle irrigation, which is an essential management tool. Too little water and the pumpkins suffer. Too much water can cause disease problems.
“There are holes every 12 inches and it allows us to take a little water and do a lot of good,” he said. “We have the water lines under the plastic. When you turn the water on those pumpkins show it. You can’t protect them from the heat, but you can relieve them some with water. We manage the water based on the need, and that is not always an easy thing to do. But these plants need water and, with the amount of money we have invested in this crop, we have to irrigate.”
Both diseases and insects are managed with almost weekly sprayings based on the conditions. The timing of the applications is important.
“My dad always said that timing is the essence of farming,” Renick said. “We try to time the fungicides and insecticide applications after the rains to keep them from washing off. Doing it around once a week seems like it has been a good system for us, but those applications are not cheap.”
The rotation of the pumpkin crop on well-drained, tiled soils is also important for preventing diseases. Crop rotation presents a unique challenge for Renick who needs a conveniently located u-pick patch for his popular “all-you-can-carry” offering. His rotations differ, but typically include field corn, soybeans and wheat at least once between pumpkin crops. The fertility is addressed with the application of 100 pounds of urea per acre at planting and potash and phosphate based upon soil test results.
The field is moldboard plowed and leveled before the pumpkins are planted to loosen the soil surface, break down the carbon in the soil and eliminate weeds.
“In order to lay the plastic in the spring, you need a nice loose soil,” he said.
After the plastic is laid the strips between the rows of plastic are sprayed for weeds and then the crop is planted, usually in early to mid June. For planting, six people use hand jabbers to poke holes in the plastic and deposit the seed. They plant a mix of pumpkin varieties for jack-o-lanterns and some pie pumpkins.
The hand planting takes some extra time, but prevents soil compaction and works effectively. After planting, the weeds in the rows are hand hoed until the pumpkin plants take off.
“Once those plants get growing, they vine out pretty quickly and canopy over the rows,” he said.
For harvest, Renick and two rotating crews of four local high school boys pick all the pumpkins by hand. They stack the pumpkins in a wagon going through the field as they work.
“My grandfather had a saying, ‘One boy is a good boy. Two boys is half a boy and three boys is no boy at all,’” Renick said. “But I have had good luck with labor. You just have to take care of your people so you can build a good team.”
This year’s wet start led to a planting in mid-June, which was a bit late. The rapid heat unit accumulation that followed, however, really pushed the crops quickly for a timely harvest. Unlike many crops, an early or late harvest can be disastrous for pumpkin marketing. The crop must be ready when the customers want to buy pumpkins.
“People have been wanting pumpkins earlier and earlier,” he said. “They still do not really want them in August when we open the market for the year, but we start selling them in September. We still sell most of our pumpkins in October, though.”
Baked pumpkin pies and other pumpkin items are very popular at Renick’s family market along with the pumpkins themselves. Customers also enjoy cider, jellies, fancy gourds, homemade noodles and a wide variety of baked goods at the fall market.
The large acreage of pumpkins on the farm is labor intensive, but the popular fall crop is worth all of the effort due to the huge local demand (in part from the Circleville Pumpkin Show). And thanks to Renick’s sound management practices, hard work with proven production techniques, and a dedication to customers, a great pumpkin shortage of 2010 was successfully avoided, at least in Pickaway County.

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