Pumpkin shortage

Lee Isom unloads a crate of just-picked Fairy Tale pumpkins Friday. Wes Isom said most of his pumpkin crop looks good this year, but farmer Dickey Hobbs counts his crop as a loss.

Local farmer Dickey Hobbs hasn’t picked any pumpkins this year from his six-acre patch. So few of the fruits grew this year that he’s not in a hurry to harvest.

“We’re not going to make a tenth as many,” said Hobbs, who grows pumpkins as a sideline on the Hobbs farm in Elkmont. “I don’t think there will be three or four hundred.”

But Wes Isom, who planted 12 acres of pumpkins at Isom’s Orchard this year, thinks the gourds will be plentiful in his patch.

“They’re a little thinner this year, but if they’ll mature, I’ve got some that will actually be better than we had last year,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s a good year, but we’ll have some good pumpkins.”

Rains from hurricanes caused some of the gourds to mildew last year, Isom said, and while the heat and drought have made this year’s crop a little lighter, the fruits are fine.

Limestone County seems to be faring better than Midwest farmers, said Joe Kemble, a horticulturist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service at Auburn University.

“Despite the heat and everything this summer, I haven’t heard any complaints of (produce buyers) not being able to find any,” Kemble said. “One of the biggest problems we have is we don’t plant enough pumpkins in Alabama to meet the demands of people here. We’ve been having to import them. It’s been a perennial problem.”

In the Midwest, it was too much rain rather than too little that caused a smaller pumpkin harvest, Kemble said, who added he is not sure what effect a shortage will have on prices.

“If they’re imported, prices could be higher,” he said.

He cautioned people to buy early. “If people wait too long to find a pumpkin, they may not find one,” he said.

Farmers in Alabama who were able to irrigate during dry weather will likely have a good yield, Kemble said, but the fruits may not be as large as they typically are.

“We have an advantage in Alabama in that pumpkins grow much faster here and growers have good window,” he said. A farmer who wants to harvest near the first of October will plant in July, whereas a farmer in the Midwest would plant much earlier.

In Alabama, about 1,100 acres of pumpkins are planted annually, Kemble said.

Hobbs said he would lose from $8,000 to $10,000.

“Mine are not any good; it’ll be a big loss,” said Hobbs, who began pumpkin farming in 1995.

Isom said he typically plants 20 acres, but something made him decide to plant only 12 this year.

“We’ve started picking them,” he said. The pumpkins that have been harvested are on sale at the family’s produce stand on U.S. 72 East.

The Isoms grow several varieties of pumpkins and gourds, including old-fashioned pumpkins; Fairy Tales, which are squat with deep ridges like Cinderella’s carriage pumpkin; French Heirlooms and more.

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