WASHINGTON – As the fall harvest season picks up, residents who like to head out to farms to pick-their-own apples and pumpkins will find the produce smaller than last year, growers warn.
Maryland’s hot and dry summer, which was officially declared a moderate drought last week, left some farmers with 15-pound pumpkins that should weigh 20 pounds.
Because most of her pumpkins are sold by weight, Jean Phillips said, the size differences will affect profits at her farm and store, Phillips Farm and Produce in Germantown. This year she hopes to make between $60,000 and $70,000 from pumpkin sales. A normal October pumpkin harvest nets up to $90,000, she said.
Hundreds of pumpkin pickers will descend on Phillips’ farm this weekend as the October harvest season begins. But with higher gas prices, Phillips said she wonders “will people travel to pumpkin patches as they did in the past” when they can buy a pumpkin from the grocery store.
Phillips foresees another potential drought-related problem. The corn surrounding her property is grown primarily for crowd control and as a visual buffer for her largely residential neighborhood. But, it too, is drying out, Phillips said, leaving the pumpkin patch and her neighbors exposed.
Steve Weber and his wife grow apples and pumpkins on their farms in Carney and Bowleys Quarters. Large pumpkins aren’t growing as large as they should and apples are smaller than normal, Weber said.
“Pumpkins don’t like hot and humid weather,” said Weber, who also has a farm in Glen Arm, but he added the vegetables “are going to eke through.” Apples didn’t mature as well as in years past, Weber said, which he also attributes to the drought.
The dry weather isn’t all bad. Without significant rainfall, apples are less likely to rot and contract disease and farmers don’t have to spray as many pesticides, said Bryan Butler, an extension educator at the University of Maryland’s Carroll County Cooperative Extension.
Plus, smaller apples have higher concentrations of sugar, making them sweeter, said Joe Fiola, a specialist in viticulture and small fruits.
Butler called the dry weather “a blessing and a curse.”
Weber is optimistic. He said any economic fallout from smaller apple and pumpkin harvests will be offset by later harvests of broccoli and cauliflower.
“It’s not a disaster story,” Weber said, “We’ll just make more cider.”
Baltimore/Washington International Airport’s weather station recorded 0.11 inches of rainfall Monday, which was “massively disappointing” to farmers, Butler said. To make a significant difference for the remainder of the season, he said, farmers need at least 4 inches of rain.
Phillips, a farmer for nearly 30 years, said she expects more rain to come soon. After “a long dry spell you kind of think in the back of your mind it’s probably going to break.” -30- CNS-9