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Beaufort County farmers, pumpkin lot managers struggle with poor crop

Christine Jezewski, left, of Beaufort, holds her youngest daugther Elena Jo, 7-months-old, while looking for the a pumpkin with her niece, Audrianna Smith, 4, center, and her oldest daugther Emily, 6, on Oct. 12, 2015, at Carteret Street United Methodist Church in Beaufort.
Christine Jezewski, left, of Beaufort, holds her youngest daugther Elena Jo, 7-months-old, while looking for the a pumpkin with her niece, Audrianna Smith, 4, center, and her oldest daugther Emily, 6, on Oct. 12, 2015, at Carteret Street United Methodist Church in Beaufort. dearley@islandpacket.com

Heavy October rainfall could carve away at Beaufort County farmers' profits.

"We're not going to do as well as we usually do," said Davey Dempsey, co-owner of St. Helena Island-based Dempsey Farms U Pick.

Dempsey estimated he had twice the number of pumpkins last year as he does this year, attributing the heavy rain Beaufort County was doused with earlier in the month to a poorer crop. Many of his pumpkins were too soft to sell or were afflicted with disease.

"We usually start the first weekend in October," he said, but because of the rain, he couldn't open the pumpkin patch at Dempsey Farms until Oct. 7.

Even without the torrential rainfall earlier in the month, typical weather conditions in Beaufort County pose problems for the pumpkin crop.

"Pumpkins rot in heat and humidity," Dempsey said.

He said his other fall crops, including sweet corn, okra, cucumbers and gourds, have fared worse from the heavy rains, but the pumpkins are traditionally his biggest seller at Dempsey Farms in the fall.

Despite the bad news, Dempsey is trying to remain optimistic about the rest of the season, adding Monday afternoon that sales started out fairly strong this week. To aid business, Dempsey Farms offers free hayrides with a purchase of a pumpkin.

"The hayrides are very popular," Dempsey said. He said he hasn't raised the prices of his pumpkins this year, although he said he won't be able to provide pumpkins to local stands and vendors like he has in previous years.

Local pumpkin lot managers who receive their crops from outside the Lowcountry are seeing similar problems.

"I'm having to throw away more pumpkins," said Bo Guined, attendant at the Hilton Head Island Poppell Seasonal pumpkin lot, calling this year's crop "terrible." "The grounds are so saturated." On Monday morning, he set aside about a dozen rotted pumpkins he said needed to be tossed.

When a customer chooses a pumpkin, Guined said he inspects it for soft white spots, which are indicative of a rotting pumpkin, before selling it. Like Dempsey, he said the prices of his pumpkins were not increased this year.

While Guined operates locally, the pumpkins he sells are supplied by Georgia-based Poppell Farms, which grows pumpkins on its 400-acre lot and also acquires them from other Southeast farms. Another Poppell Seasonal lot in Bluffton on Fording Island Road is operated by Jerry McIntosh, who said this year's pumpkin crop was poor at first, but the pumpkins more recently delivered to his lot have been better quality.

Guined said his sales have been "mediocre" thus far, adding that the prime selling time for pumpkins begins around Oct. 15 and goes through Oct. 31. As of Monday, he had about 160 pumpkins for sale on his lot. He said the biggest sellers so far have been small sugar pumpkins, which are traditionally used to make pumpkin soup and pie, and ghost pumpkins, a naturally white pumpkin that he said is a new addition to the lot this year.

Local farmers and pumpkin sellers feel they could still bounce back -- as long as the weather cooperates.

"We need to get some sunshine now," Dempsey said.

Canned pumpkin shortage possible this fall

If pumpkin pie is on your Thanksgiving menu, it might be prudent to start stocking up now on a key ingredient.

Crop experts in Illinois are predicting a shortage of canned pumpkin this year. Large canned-pumpkin manufacturer Libby's says yields could be off by as much as a third this year in Illinois, where about 90 percent of the pumpkins grown in the U.S. comes from within a 90-mile radius of Peoria.

Illinois experienced record rainfall this summer, which farmers say washed out the crop.

Source: The Associated Press

Follow reporter Ashley Fahey at twitter.com/IPBG_Ashley.

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