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Pumpkin rush for Halloween

Drought and excessive heat reduced this year's pumpkin harvest in the US, but there should be enough of the fruit for Halloween providing consumers do not mind paying a little more than last year.

by: Michael Hirtzer | 30 Oct 2007

"It's not hard to find pumpkins out there, but there are not a lot of pumpkins compared to most years," said Steve Bogash, a horticulture educator at Penn State University.

Extreme dryness hit much of the northern United States this summer, sapping the harvest in four of the top five pumpkin-producing states: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Illinois. Rounding out the top five is California.

Sarah Frey-Talley, who runs one of the country's largest pumpkin patches, Frey Farms in Keenes, Illinois, said her harvest is down 30 percent.

"It's been a tough growing year in the Midwest. We went over a month and a half without rain. Excessive heat severely affected the crop," she said.

A major supplier of retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc and Kroger Co, Frey Farms will be forced to buy pumpkins from other patches to meet orders.

Bogash, who closely watches vegetable production in what he calls the "vegetable basket" of Pennsylvania, or the nine counties surrounding Harrisburg, said hardest hit was the Jack-o'-lantern variety, which is popular for carving but not so much for baking.

"The ones that take the worst beating when it's hot are the larger ones," Bogash said.

This year, however, most of the pumpkins may be gone by Halloween. "If you're looking for pumpkins in the last week of October, you might be disappointed," Bogash said.

Helping relieve pressure on the jack-o'-lantern crop is the increasing popularity of smaller, heirloom varieties, such as gray-blue Jarrahdale or the Marina di Chioggia, pumpkins native to Australia and Italy, respectively.

"It's not that the jack-o'-lanterns are taking a back seat, but the new colours and textures are what consumers are looking for," said Frey-Talley, who recently wrote a recipe and photo book, "For the Love of Pumpkins." All of her heirloom pumpkins are sold out for the year, she said.

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