- The Washington Times - Monday, October 14, 2002

RICHMOND Some Virginia kids may resort to drawing faces on basketballs or carving zucchinis this Halloween.
Pumpkins are in short supply across the state thanks to extreme summertime heat and the ongoing drought and what pumpkins there are might make better paperweights than jack-o'-lanterns.
"People are kind of scrambling around looking for pumpkins," said Sam Johnson, agricultural extension agent in Westmoreland County. "We have maybe a little better than half a crop this year. We had some fields that didn't get any blooms."
The scene is similar across the state normal acreage cut in half by farmers expecting a bad summer, heat-withered vines with pumpkins too small to sell. Some farmers have even had to import pumpkins from cooler, northern states to meet quotas with retailers.
"Most chains won't accept smaller pumpkins," said Kevin Semones, manager of the state-owned Southwest Virginia Farmers' Market in Carroll County. "So we've got about 40 percent lost production and basically the same in lost revenue."
The problem stems from too much heat and too little water at critical growing stages during the summer. The plants need rain most when they're planted at the beginning of June, and again when blooms are pollinated and plants set in early August.
J. Hudson Reese, a grower in Halifax County, said the ground was so dry at the beginning of the summer, he planted only 4 acres of pumpkins, instead of the usual 10. For farmers who don't irrigate, lack of water in August generally means smaller pumpkins.
And then there's the heat. Hot weather affects pumpkin yields because the gourds don't fare well in high temperatures, according to Mr. Reese.
"Our crop was a little short, about half what it normally is," he said. "But we've got pumpkins, and I think we'll have an adequate supply. They're probably not as big as they usually are."
Mr. Reese, though, like most pumpkin growers in the state, said his operation is not so large that it costs him money when he has a bad crop. Still, he has had to buy some pumpkins from wholesale distributors to meet the demands of his retail customers.
"It's the first time in several years we've had to do this," he said.
Western Virginia pumpkin growers, who normally export a majority of their crop to Southern states, are facing competition this year from the Midwest and Southwest, where conditions were better for growing this summer.
"You just have to find places to sell them roadside stands, small markets, places like that," Mr. Semones said. "A lot of them won't be sold."
David Buchanan, who owns a family-run patch in Smyth County, said his crop was cut by about half this year, as well.
"Last summer we were affected by floods, believe it or not, and this year was dry," he said.
"The weather has been a problem the last three or four years."


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