Area growers see good crop in pumpkin patches

The Great Pumpkin Plague affecting some parts of the country hasn't been a problem for pumpkin patches that are a Halloween tradition in this area, growers say.

Pumpkin crops have been a bit of a bust from Canada to the southeastern United States as well as some of the Midwest, news reports say.

That's not been the case locally, said Rebecca McMahon, horticulture agent for the Sedgwick County Extension Service.

"Everything I've heard, we're seeing nice orange pumpkins," she said.

However, there has been a shortage of canned pumpkin used for pies and other baking, McMahon said.

"The central Midwestern states like Illinois and Indiana are seeing that kind of a problem," she said.

A spokeswoman for Nestle, which makes Libby's brand canned pumpkin, said Mother Nature didn't cooperate last year.

"We experienced unfavorable weather conditions last fall, which limited the size of our harvest," said Roz O'Hearn. That meant "we had very little surplus entering this season."

This year's planting also was affected by rainy weather, she said, but the harvest is under way and Libby's is shipping canned pumpkin, she said.

Libby's pumpkin comes from farmland near Morton, Ill., which is the pumpkin capital of the world, O'Hearn said.

Libby's has about 5,000 acres planted there. Its canning facility operates around-the-clock once harvest begins, she said.

"We'll work till we have all the pumpkin in or until the first hard frost hits," she said.

Sheila Lowrie, a spokeswoman for Dillons, said getting canned pumpkin to store shelves had been a problem for the chain.

"We were experiencing a few shortages but since then, our warehouse shipments have been replenished," she said. "We're shipping to stores right as we speak."

Canned pumpkin shipments began arriving in the past few days, she said.

Renee Berggren, an owner of the Apple Jack Pumpkin Patch in Augusta, said some pumpkins got hit with a powdery mildew.

"It was a lot worse than last year, but it didn't wipe us out," she said. "We still have a good crop, fortunately."

The Munchkin Pumpkin Patch and Fun Farm, which is about nine miles north of Wellington, is open for its first year.

Dorothy Lawrence, whose husband and daughter own the business, said it's been fun to see how a pumpkin patch evolves.

"Our pumpkins have done great," she said. "The rain has been hard on them. They don't like their roots to be wet. But we've done well, especially for the first year."