The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 14, 2012

Pricey pumpkins: Plenty on hand locally, but drought drives up cost

Kathy Mellott

JOHNSTOWN — Despite the frustrating weather Mother Nature offered this year, there should be plenty of pumpkins to be found at the region’s farms and roadside stands. But customers should be prepared to dig a little deeper to cover the cost for a jack-o-lantern or a freshly made pie.

“The pumpkin season has been pretty good for our area. The prices are good for most of the growers,” said Tom Ford, Penn State Extension horticulture educator.

But high prices for the growers means high prices for the consumer, a spike reflecting the crop in the region due to a pumpkin shortage in Ohio and Maryland, two states hit hard by drought conditions in the summer, Ford said.

“Our local pumpkin growers are doing pretty well, and they’re moving them west and south.”

Estimates are that prices at local markets are about 15 percent to 20 percent higher, but a medium-sized pumpkin will run between $5 and $10.

Jim Benshoff of Benshoff Farms of New Germany was concerned about the drought that hit Cambria County for two weeks in July, but the rain came through in time, he said.

Benshoff, 70, planted his first pumpkin crop when he was 15. It went so well he used the $165 profit along with a $30 loan from his father to buy his first car.

He’s been growing pumpkins every year since and has seen all kinds of growing conditions.

“We had an excellent crop this year. We have everything from a pie pumpkin to ones so big you can’t carry them,” Benshoff said.

“Most of our stuff is for Halloween and we are ready.”

Going out to the farm is a good idea for best price and largest selection, Ford said.

“Sometimes it’s best to go right to the grower,” he said.

“There are still some bargains out there, but they’re still going to pay a little bit more.”

For giant pumpkin grower Larry Checkon, it was a tough season, with trouble pollinating and concern about the humidity that brings on the mildew.

But the Northern Cambria grower had five giants, most of which made it to harvest and the great pumpkin weigh-offs.

Last month he placed first in competition in Crawford County, and took a third place in competition at Clarence, N.Y.

Two weeks ago, he captured first place – by a pound – at the pumpkin weigh-in at Sam’s Club in Altoona.

“It seems like a good year for all (varieties) of pumpkins, but they seem a little smaller than other years,” Checkon said.

The 2012 growing season has been a good one for pumpkins, apples, potatoes, gourds, corn and just about every other crop grown in the region, Ford said.

“Overall, vegetable growers in central Pennsylvania have had an excellent season,” he said.