(Aug. 8) Growers and shippers are expecting a high-quality pumpkin crop this year, although dry weather in several growing regions could result in reduced yields.

“We’ve been extremely dry, but the crop has held up well,” said Jim Klickman, manager of Klickman Farms Inc., Elmore, Ohio. “The plants have been holding in moisture down at the roots. Overall, the crop is looking good.”

Rain in late July had other growers heaving a sigh of relief.

“We just got a beautiful million-dollar rain over the past few days,” said Dan Hinkle, president of Hinkle Produce, Cissna Park, Ill. “The pumpkin crop looks excellent. It really couldn’t look any better right now. The fruit is setting and the bees are coming in. We could potentially have a tremendous crop.”

Some growers said they preferred this season’s dry growing conditions to last year’s extremely wet season.

“It has been a little dry, but we have a better quality crop in dry weather than in wet weather,” said Ken Holthouse, general manager for Doug Walcher Farms, North Fairfield, Ohio. “There have actually been fewer disease issues this year because it’s been dry. That’s a significant problem in a wet season.”

Heat and little rain were the biggest concerns growers and shippers cited that might affect volumes this year.

Ryan Van Groningen, sales manager for Manteca, Calif.-based Van Groningen & Sons Inc., said that while temperatures were high, they did not compare to the 110-degree temperatures he remembered from last season.

“Those extreme temperatures are bad for the flowers — they just knock out the bloom,” he said. “The temperatures this year have been in the high 90s and low 100s, but nothing as extreme as last year. You would hope volumes are going to be better, but it’s hard to tell this early. I do think the weather should be beneficial and help the crop.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, average prices per cwt. of pumpkins were $9.07 in 2004, $9.64 in 2005 and $9.90 in 2006. The first USDA f.o.b. report in 2006, on Virginia pumpkins, was $75-100 on bins of 40-45 count, on Sept. 18.

Most growers said they expected to start this year’s harvest early in September, many immediately following Labor Day weekend.