Recent rainfalls, especially accumulation from Hurricane Irene, have led to unusually wet growing conditions harming local vine crops including pumpkins, according to state and local authorities.
Many pick-your-own patches and local farm stands are already feeling the affects.
Tom Nivison, owner of Silverton Farms in Toms River explained how too much rain can be devastating for pumpkins and other vine crops.
“Wet weather puts a lot of pressure on the crop,” Nivison said.
Wet weather’s conducive to wilt, powdery mildew and a whole host of destructive diseases, Nivison said.
Michelle Pereira, co-owner of Brookville Farms in Waretown, said she feels fortunate to have not grown pumpkins this year.
“All the vine crops took it hard this year because of all the rain,” Pereira said.
But others were not quite so fortunate.
Kim DeWolf, co-owner of DeWolf’s Farm in New Egypt, estimated she has lost up to 75 percent of her pumpkin crop.
“It wasn’t just Irene. The two weekends before that, we had over five inches of rain each weekend," DeWolf said.
Pumpkin supply shortages, combined with increased costs for maintaining the continued health of the surviving crop, have already driven up prices, according to DeWolf.
“We have a few acres that are real sandy and are uphill, so those were okay,” DeWolf said. “Of course, it’ll cost a fortune in chemicals to avoid disease.”
DeWolf explained that some vine crops, such as pumpkins, squash and zucchini, that are also grown in the south may bring fungal diseases and blights as the northern growing season extends past southern harvests.
The wet local conditions have led to those same crops sitting sometimes in inches of water, allowing the gourds to become water logged. The vegetables literally die on the vine.
“All of our vine crops – pumpkins, squash, cucumbers, pickles – they sit in water and die off,” DeWolf said.
She estimated her loss to be in the tens of thousands of dollars.
And despite a promising start for Nivison, the rainy end of the summer was especially disappointing, he said.
“We had a good set, good pollination this year,” he said.
Soon, the local deer population did considerable damage, eating many plants, Nivison said.
Then the rain came and the wilt killed the vines, he said.
Nivison's pumpkin crop this year will be practically nonexistent, he said.
Lynne Richmond, Public Information Officer with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, said hundreds of farms could be affected statewide.
According to a United States Department of Agriculture survey from 2007 – the most current available – there were 530 farms in New Jersey that grew squash, including pumpkins, over more than 2,500 acres. In Ocean County there were 12 such farms, encompassing 57 acres.
Richmond said the rain amounts coupled with storm damage from Hurricane Irene could spell trouble for vine crops, especially coming so late in the growing season for pumpkins.
“The hurricane had a big impact on the pumpkin crop,” she said. “Any vine crops that sat in water will be at risk.”
Despite so many pumpkins being lost, many local markets are maintaining supply by bringing stock from further away than normal.
DeWolf said her surviving stock of pumpkins will last only so long, certainly not to Halloween.
After those pumpkins go, DeWolf might have to bring in pumpkins from elsewhere, she said.
“Pennsylvania was hard hit (by the weather),” DeWolf said.
She has heard other farm stands are already bringing pumpkins in from Illinois and Ohio.
Richmond stressed farm markets and stands will continue to carry pumpkins well into the fall.
“Pumpkins are so closely associated with the fall. Plenty will be available,” Richmond said.
Jennifer O’Brien, garden center manager at Living Landscapes in Barnegat acknowledged this year has been rough on the pumpkin crop.
“It’s been tough this year to get them,” she said.
O’Brien noted they currently have plenty of pumpkins on hand and plan to get more from a farm in NJ as the need arises.
With more than 1,600 Baby Pams – the little one-pound pumpkins popular for painting – going to Barnegat schools, demand will almost certainly be high.
O’Brien felt confident most of her pumpkins would come from NJ suppliers, although she said in past years she got some from as far away as Canada.
DeWolf explained one part of the pumpkin picking experience may not be affected.
Pick-your-own pumpkin patches, responsible for a good chunk of the estimated $60 million annual agritourism revenue, are usually resupplied with pumpkins grown elsewhere once the pumpkins grown on the farm have been harvested.
“We refresh the patch after the first picking anyway,” DeWolf said.
The average consumers are unlikely to notice any difference, DeWolf said. Until, that is, they head to the cash register.
“Prices are high already,” she said. “We’ve got pumpkins right now because our farm is on sandy soil but our supply won’t last until Halloween.”