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Illinois Country Living

Rains carve out questionable harvest
Pumpkins emerge despite difficult growing conditions

By Kaleigh Friend

As the leaves begin to change colors and litter the ground, the crunch under your feet reminds you that the fall season is soon approaching with pleasant memories of apple cider, crafting festivals and orange pumpkins. However, some farmers have found their fields of pumpkins are struggling to make it this season due to the heavy rainfall experienced during key growing months.

As for Dale Hodgson of Kilbourne, Ill., it looks like this season will only produce a light crop. High precipitation in combination with the area’s sandy soil resulted in planting on only 15-20 acres of the 35 acres he has available to raise pumpkins. In this area of the Menard Electric Cooperative, only about 30-40 percent of the crop has reached maturity, which could mean a late harvest or simply a smaller turnout. According to Hodgson, you “just have to be like a Cubs fan; wait for next year.”

However, some pumpkin farms, such as Frey Farms in Keenes, Ill., have been fortunate enough to overcome less than perfect conditions. Justin Talley, Field Specialist, said the millions of pumpkins the farm produces are doing very well this season. Harvest at the farm located on the Wayne-White Cooperative lines, is expected to begin in September. While the perfect growing season would have cooler temperatures and normal precipitation, the farm is helped by the clay soil in this area of southern Illinois, which works well for growing pumpkins.

But, at the other end of the spectrum, some pumpkin farmers will have no crop at all this harvest. Jim Orr of Buffalo, Ill., a member of the Menard Electric Cooperative, has given up on hopes of a successful crop this season and is facing 99.9 percent losses this season after too much rain in May and June. Due to wet fields, Orr was not able to plant until the first week in July, and soon after planting, the Buffalo area got around three and a half inches of rain in a 2-hour span. The combination of heavy precipitation and high temperatures meant the feeble plants never had the chance to mature and germinate.

The two main areas where the pumpkin crop has been affected this season are northwest of Springfield in the Morton picking area and in northern Illinois, just south of Wisconsin, according to Mohammad Babadoost, Associate Professor of Plant Pathology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Issues with blight — lesions caused by prolonged contact with saturated soil — could result in what he called “major losses” for the state’s pumpkin crop, with about 15-20 percent of pumpkins never making it to market. Overall, it looks like there will be a slightly less than average yield this year.

While this year’s crop may be less than average, the pumpkin products we look forward to each fall are bold and memorable. As summer’s heat continues to fade away, we’ll begin to see the carved orange faces gathered around doorsteps and smell pumpkin pies baking on a cool fall evening. Even with a less than perfect crop, as long as there are pumpkins, fall is complete.

© 2016 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
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