Late spring rains delay Oregon pumpkin harvests
While this year's late spring rains brought drought relief to much of Oregon, the added rainfall is affecting fall pumpkin harvests across the Willamette Valley and Central Washington.
Produce buyer Erik Levi with the Pacific Coast Fruit Company told KOIN 6 News that the late rains drastically delayed May pumpkin planting for farmers along Oregon and Washington's Interstate 5 corridor. With harvests several weeks behind schedule, local farmers are hoping that their fields of green pumpkins can ripen in time for Halloween.
"That rain pushed back a lot of the planting by a few weeks, and almost a month for some farmers," Levi said. "When that happens, the pumpkins are not going to be ready at the time they need them to be."
Growing time varies based on a pumpkin's size and type, but many jack-o'-lantern pumpkins need as many as four months to mature from the time they are planted. The Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation states that miniature, decorative pumpkins take about 95 days to mature, 5-to-10-pound pumpkins take 110 days, and 10-to-25-pound pumpkins are ready to harvest in about 120 days.
Local farmers who sell directly to customers shouldn't be affected by the late rains because they can individually harvest the pumpkins as they mature, Levi said. However, farmers who sell to grocery stores and other wholesale pumpkin buyers are struggling to provide larger shipments.
"Growers are struggling to get early pumpkins for direct wholesalers out," Levi said. "There will be pumpkins from the east side of the Cascades this year. The farms to the west of the Cascades are the ones who took the big hit."
Oregon's 400 pumpkin farms harvest roughly 2,600 acres of pumpkins each year. These farms brought $9.8 million in sales to the state in 2018. But with a majority of these farms operating in the Willamette Valley — Multnomah, Marion, Benton and Lane counties — it's unclear how the delayed harvest may impact the local agriculture industry.
"Oregon is in the top 15 states in the country for pumpkin production," the Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation stated. "(Pumpkins) are not one of the top crops in the state, but they are still important."
While all experienced pumpkin farmers have dealt with late harvests and low yields, Levi said, this year's impacts were unprecedented. If local pumpkins don't ripen quick enough, some wholesale buyers could turn to states like California to meet demands.
"Every year is a little different," he said. "Every other year we might have some late rains, but the way this year's rains impacted the entire region versus some farmers here and there, it's a wide-ranging issue."
Despite the delays, Levi said that pumpkin farmers are hoping to have a strong fall finale, with an abundance of pumpkins ripening just in time for Halloween. This may mean that individual pumpkin pickers might have the best selection during the last two weeks of October.
"By mid-October, there will be plenty of volume, so the hope is that there will still be demand to move all of those pumpkins at the end," he said. "We hope that it will work out in the last few weeks of the season. We could have a real hard push at the end and everything will be all right."
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