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Wet weather may harm LI pumpkin harvest

A pumpkin affected by disease. (Sept. 18, 2011)

A pumpkin affected by disease. (Sept. 18, 2011) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

Like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin, Long Islanders could be disappointed this year by elusive pumpkin stocks.

A wet summer, capped off by Tropical Storm Irene, means conditions are ripe for disease and pumpkin growers may not see bumper crops of this Halloween staple.

Many farm stands and pick-your-own places may import pumpkins from Canada and the west, but there's a chance pumpkin supplies will be limited or gone as Halloween nears, according to Long Island farmers interviewed.

"I still have a lot of nice pumpkins, but I think the word is 'get your pumpkins early,' " said Jim Stakey, owner of Stakey's Pumpkin Farm, a 26-acre, you-pick pumpkin patch in Aquebogue, who said he may import from Canada and western states to add to his offerings.

Some Long Island farmers say the damage is devastating; others say it's too soon to tell.

"I don't think the farmers really know yet," said Faye Anderson, whose husband owns Anderson Farms, which has a farm stand in Riverhead. "We're picking pumpkins right now, but how they hold up, I won't know."

Damp conditions are deadly. "Water is the primary vector by which most of the pumpkin diseases move," said Edward Harbes IV, production manager at Harbes Farm & Vineyard, which offers you-pick pumpkins, hayrides and mazes at its Mattituck, Riverhead and Jamesport farms.

Harbes plants pumpkins atop a layer of straw, making them less susceptible to flooding. "We still have a bumper crop this year," he said, although he conceded, "It's not as good as it could be."

Stakey said he's seen indications of Phytophthora blight throughout his field. In the past, the blight usually shows up in low-lying areas where water pools. His Cinderella pumpkins were wiped out. The Turks' Turbans "just melted."

Ed Hodun of Hodun Farm in Calverton planted about 6 acres of pumpkins. A few bins he picked recently are in bad shape. "It's disconcerting," he said. "It's disheartening. You expect to make money and you'll be lucky to break even."

Other parts of New York have seen even more damage, said Peter Gregg, spokesman for the New York Farm Bureau. In some places, like upstate Orange County, crops were washed away. "My understanding is Irene's impact on Long Island was fairly negligible on agriculture for the most part," he said. "Upstate is where it was devastating because of the floodwaters."

Stakey said he's trying to be optimistic: "We can sit here and cry in beer, but let's stay positive."

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