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Published: Thursday, 10/11/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Bumper crop lets pumpkin sellers keep 2011’s prices, offers buyers huge and healthy selections

BY JON CHAVEZ BLADE STAFF WRITER
Whitney Meinke, Curtis, frees a cat from the clutches of her sons Frey 2, left, and Finn, 1, as they look at pumpkins with Miken Oliver, Toledo, on Wednesday at Fleitz Pumpkin Farm in Oregon Whitney Meinke, Curtis, frees a cat from the clutches of her sons Frey 2, left, and Finn, 1, as they look at pumpkins with Miken Oliver, Toledo, on Wednesday at Fleitz Pumpkin Farm in Oregon
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As it turns out, the drought wasn’t detrimental to every crop.

This year’s pumpkin crop benefited immensely from the hot, dry July weather, growers and sellers say. As a result, buyers have a huge, healthy selection to choose from, with prices holding steady from last year or increasing just slightly.

“Our crop was fantastic. Maybe even the best one we’ve ever had,” said Paul Fleitz, owner of Fleitz Pumpkin Farm in Oregon. “It seems like we got the rains at just the right time and the crop just flourished,” he added.

With a bounty crop, the Fleitz family didn’t see a need to raise prices. In fact, the Fleitzes, who sell pumpkins by size rather than weight, lowered their prices slightly on some pumpkins.

The basketball-sized pumpkins held steady at about $4 each this year at the Fleitz farm. Smaller pumpkins are selling from 50 cents to $2; large pumpkins (250 pounds or more) are $70 and up, Mr. Fleitz said.

At Rhodes Garden Fresh market in Toledo, pumpkins also are plentiful and reasonably priced, owner Jeff Rhodes said.

“At the outset of the season a couple of weeks ago, the consensus was that there was maybe going to be a little bit of a shortage. As it turns out, last summer’s heat and drought actually led to a healthier pumpkin crop. Dry weather meant fewer diseases and fungi,” Mr. Rhodes said. “So instead of a shortage, it actually ended up being a bit of a glut.”

Mr. Rhodes held the line on his prices this year. A basketball-sized pumpkin is $4 to $5, but most of his supply is priced between $1 and $18. “And we have a good selection in any size. They really are nice, big pumpkins this year, showy and healthy and nicely shaped,” he added.

Mr. Rhodes said that with the large crop, some pumpkins might remain in the field this year. “A farmer won’t pick everything if he has to just give it away. And the supply is huge. There is good quality right across the board.”

Swanton farmer Doug Keil, who grows pumpkins for The Andersons Inc. stores, agreed his crop turned out “probably a little better than normal.”

“We got a later rain and, boy, they just took off and grew,” he said.

A bumper crop is a bonanza for consumers, who will have their pick of orange gourds for Halloween and reasonable prices.

But for growers like Mr. Keil, the bumper crop is not a blessing.

“I will probably make less [money] than normal because it was such a big crop,” he said. “When there are fewer pumpkins you tend to do better on price. But even if they’re scarce, they are not that much more money. People just won’t pay a lot for pumpkins,” Mr. Keil said.

However, farmers have to recoup their costs, and for that reason, Martha Mora, co-owner of Johnston Fruit Farms in Swanton, said she had to raise her pumpkin prices slightly this year even though the farm had a bumper crop.

“Our pumpkin crop was really good this year. We did have a really dry, hot summer and pumpkins are a hot-weather crop. They didn’t mind the drought at all,” she said.

But prices at the Johnston farm rose to 25 cents a pound this year from 20 cents last year, she said. “You still have your operating costs and fuel continues to be high. There’s also feed expense, fertilizer, plus the people around us all went up to the same price, so we decided to go up,” she said.

That said, Ms. Mora said customers will be very pleased with the selection and a basketball-sized pumpkin still can be had for less than $5.

“We have a huge variety and array of pumpkins. They all came through the summer really well,” she said.

Contact Jon Chavez at:

jchavez@theblade.com

or 419-724-6128.



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