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Short Crop May Mean High-Priced Pumpkins

It's the season for pumpkins, but short crops could mean higher prices at the market, say University of Georgia scientists.

"Our Georgia crop looks good if they got adequate rain or were irrigated," said Terry Kelley, an Extension Service horticulturist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Diseases and Viruses in Crop

"We always battle disease, and we had worse problems than normal this year with viruses," he said.

Because of this year's drought, nonirrigated pumpkins were smaller and fewer.

The weather across the country affects us more than our own, Kelley said, because Georgia markets import most of their pumpkins. Georgia farmers grow 400 to 500 acres of pumpkins annually.

Problems in Tennessee and North Carolina, Too

"Tennessee's crop is very low," Kelley said. "North Carolina's crop was affected by the drought early on and then by the hurricane. So local consumers are likely to see higher prices than normal this year."

Early wholesale prices this fall are almost double their normal range. At Rick's Farmers Market in Marietta, prices varied from 99 cents for small ornamental pumpkins to $17 for large pumpkins.

"We either got no rain or, when it rained, it flooded," said Jeff Champion, a salesman at Rick's. "So there are fewer pumpkins in the field, and the ones we get are smaller and the prices higher."

Prices May Drop Later

"It's still early," Kelley said. "So as supply increases, the prices may go down. But I'm sure that price reflects the anticipated short crop.

If the wholesale price holds, the retail price can be expected to remain higher, too.

"It really depends on where the supplies are coming from," Kelley said. "If markets have their own crop, it could be cheaper."

Pumpkin Pickin' = Family Fun

Many Georgians see pumpkin buying as a chance for a family outing. The entertainment and family time may still be worth the higher price. Some pumpkin farms offer petting zoos, hay rides and other family fun.

For a good list of fresh-market pumpkin dealers, check the Georgia Farm Bureau web site at www.gfb.org. Click on "Farm Mkts." The site offers details of what each market offers and a map with directions to the farm markets in your area.

(Photos by Faith Peppers)

(Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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