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Pumpkin growers ready for season

MONDAY, OCT. 15, 2007

The Spokane area is flush with pumpkins this Halloween season in spite of a shortage in other parts of the country.

“There are plenty of pumpkins out here and there’s no crowd,” said Kami Mackleit, a Valleyford resident who browsed through a two-acre pumpkin patch at Amicarella’s Valley Produce on Sunday with her family.

The Spokane Valley business had to worry more about the eating habits of the local wildlife than the impact of the long, dry summer, said Rhonda Catalano, an employee who spent the weekend weighing and selling more than two thousand pounds of pumpkins.

“Last year the deer wiped us out,” said Catalano of the stubborn creatures that found ways to infiltrate a new seven-foot electric fence and kick open the pumpkins to eat the innards.

Scorching weather conditions in some regions – and an overabundance of rain in others – wiped out pumpkin crops from western New York to Illinois and beyond. The adverse conditions left some fields dotted with undersized fruit, while other farms had pumpkins rotting on the vines.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts pumpkin production to be down for the second straight year. Crop totals declined slightly from 2005 to 2006 in what the department estimates is a $100 million-a-year industry.

While there hasn’t been an issue with getting pumpkins, Brandon Morrow, owner of Spokane Boys produce in north Spokane, said he is paying 50 percent more for wholesale pumpkins than he did last year. Some Yakima-based growers are charging more because of increased demand from parts of Western Washington, which lacked banner crops this year, he said.

Spokane Boys is charging 25 cents a pound for pumpkins, about the same price as last year, and will settle for making less profit, Morrow said, because there’s plenty of competition within the market.

Although pumpkins aren’t a top-selling item, he expects to sell 12,000 to 14,000 pounds during this season.

“With pumpkins you’ve got to sell a whole bunch for it to add up,” Morrow said. “I definitely couldn’t make a living off of it.”

The produce market owner said he bought some of the most attractive pumpkins he has seen in several seasons from a Spokane Valley grower. The pumpkins are a deep orange, with dark green stems and deep grooves.

Todd Beck of the family-owned Harvest House on Green Bluff, said the farm’s pumpkin crop came in as planned. This weekend is a big one for pumpkin sales, he said, estimating that the business would sell about 30,000 pounds of pumpkins in two days.

“We have lots and lots of great pumpkins this year,” Beck said.

Duane Wentz, produce merchandiser for Yoke’s Foods Inc., said the company hasn’t had any pumpkin supply issues this season, although their main supplier, based out of the Tri-Cities, mentioned shipping more pumpkins than usual to California this year.

“There’s no doubt that there’s a shortage, but we’re in good shape,” Wentz said.


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