(Oct. 12) Waterlogged pumpkins infected by fungi are putting a dent in supplies east of the Mississippi, but consumers still should have enough conventional pumpkins for Halloween.

Gourds, minipumpkins and pie pumpkins, however, could be hard to come by, grower-shippers and officials say.

Tighter supplies, meanwhile, are not translating into significantly higher prices.

Two fungi — phytophthora blight and fusarium fruit rot — are causing pumpkins to rot in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, said Dan Egel, an extension plant pathologist with the Southwest Purdue Agricultural Center, Vincennes, Ind.

Heavy rains late in the growing season are the culprit, Egel said.

On Oct. 11, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $75-100 for 40- to 45-count bins from Virginia, comparable to or slightly above last year’s price of $70-90.

Turek Farms, King Ferry, N.Y., expects to lose about a third of its 2006 pumpkins to fungus rot, scarring and other weather-related problems, said Jason Turek, partner.

“It’s just been a struggle with the weather,” he said. “Since August, it seems like we’ve had just two days a week to get into the fields. We needed some serious heat, and we just didn’t get it.”

Turek Farms hopes to wrap up its harvest by about Oct. 18, Turek said. That day, he said, can’t come soon enough.

“I’ll be happy to see those little orange things going down the road,” he said.

Markets have strengthened somewhat because of the rot problems, Turek said, but not as much as he would like.

“Demand is good, but I would have expected it to get a little higher than it is now,” he said. “There are good prices on the small pie pumpkins. The others are just decent.”

It’s a grim industry reality, Turek said, that weather-related problems are necessary to sustain markets.

“If people had a good crop, there would be absolutely no demand and pumpkins would have been sitting in fields,” he said. “Unfortunately, somebody has to have a bad market for everybody else to make it.”

Pumpkins grown by Dan Schantz Farm & Greenhouse LLC, Zionsville, Pa., just couldn’t catch a break in 2006, said Denny Heilman, partner.

“I was telling a retailer the other day, ‘These guys have a tough life,’” Heilman said. “It was wet when they were planted, then they got flooded, then it was between 95 and 104 (degrees), then they didn’t get a drink for awhile, then in August it poured on them and it rained straight on through. It’s surprising they lived at all.”

Schantz will have just 60% of a normal pumpkin crop this year, Heilman predicted. And even those that survived could have quality issues, he said, especially if they have to travel more than a few hours.

“They have to be overnight right now, otherwise they start to break down,” he said. “Lack of air is pumpkins’ worst nightmare.”

While Schantz ships some pumpkins to Florida, 90% of its customers are reachable by overnight delivery, Heilman said.

Heilman said that while consumers should expect shortages of gourds, minipumpkins and especially pie pumpkins, there should be enough conventional pumpkins for Halloween.

“I think anybody who’s really looking for pumpkins should be able to find pumpkins,” he said.

Egel agreed.

While the two fungi have proved devastating for some growers, he predicted consumers wouldn’t notice a difference at retail.

“I think there are enough pumpkins where consumers won’t see a problem,” he said. “Pumpkins will just have to be shipped further.”

Fungal rot a double-edged sword for pumpkin deal
This pumpkin afflicted with Phytophthora was grown in Indiana.