- The Washington Times - Monday, October 12, 2009

CENTREVILLE, Va. | When children leave Cox Farms and other pumpkin patches across the nation this fall, they may go home with a gourd instead of the traditional orange pumpkin.

That’s because Cox Farms, which hosts one of the Washington area’s largest fall festivals this month, is looking at a pumpkin shortage.

Cox Farms marketing manager Bob Richard said a rainy spring in some parts of the country has led to a dearth of the little pumpkins that children carry home from the patch. Those pumpkins are free with the $15 admission price.

Cox Farms grows some of its own pumpkins, then orders the rest from local brokers to round out the supply.

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“It has been a weird weather situation,” Mr. Richard said. “Usually we have no trouble at all getting brokers to bring us pumpkins. But Pennsylvania farmers are seeing yields down 50 to 70 percent. We have as many as we need to get through Columbus Day weekend, our busiest time, but we are concerned about what will happen next week. Gourds may be great for Mom and Dad, but not such a good souvenir for kids.”

In Maryland, Todd Butler, manager of Butler’s Orchard in Germantown, said his supply of small pumpkins may be down, but there should be enough to get through the fall. Butler’s grows about 20 acres of pumpkins then brings in the rest from suppliers.

“Every year is different,” he said. “We had a lot of damp weather this year.”

The wet summer also has significantly affected the pumpkin supply in New England. A particularly rainy growing season in June and July caused some seedlings to wash away, some farmers say. Others say their crop is delayed, meaning pumpkins might not be big enough or orange enough by Halloween.

Dayton, Maine, grower Edward LeBlanc told the Associated Press that his 30 acres likely would have a subpar yield in 2009.

“If you saw our field, you’d say it looks beautiful,” Mr. LeBlanc said. “You would say, ‘Wow, look at all the pumpkins.’ But we’d be saying, ‘Wow, look at all the pumpkins that aren’t going to quite make it,’ or ‘Look at all the pumpkins that aren’t going to be large enough size to sell.’ ”

Some New England growers lost their entire crops, but others fared much better. Maine’s harvest is expected to be off by about 50 percent, said Lauchlin Titus, president of the Maine Vegetable and Small Fruit Growers Association.

Nationwide, 92,955 acres were devoted to growing pumpkins in 2007, compared with 25,985 acres in 1982, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Another fall symbol, the pumpkin pie, may take a hit by Thanksgiving. Last year’s weak harvest in Illinois, which leads the nation’s pumpkin industry, has led to a shortage of canned pumpkin.

Shoppers reported that they could scarcely find canned pumpkin on the shelves of grocery stores in the past few months. Roz O’Hearn, a spokeswoman for Nestle SA, the parent company of canned-pumpkin leader Libby’s, said help is on the way.

“If you looked [during] the last few months, canned pumpkin was not on the store shelves,” Ms. O’Hearn said. “There were a lot of weather issues with last year’s harvest which left us without a surplus.”

Libby’s has a farm with 5,000 acres of pumpkins in Morton, Ill.

“Harvest 2009 is still going on, and it was wet at the start, but we are seeing a turnaround,” Ms. O’Hearn said. “I think America will be OK for Thanksgiving.”

• Karen Goldberg Goff can be reached at kgoff@washingtontimes.com.

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