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LI pumpkin growers expect very good crop

After 2011's Tropical Storm Irene, Jim Stakey, owner

After 2011's Tropical Storm Irene, Jim Stakey, owner of Stakey's Pumpkin Farm, a pick-your-own patch in Aquebogue, says of his 2011 pumpkin yield, "I wouldn't call it the best crop ever, but I'd call it pretty darn close." (Sept. 16, 2012) Credit: Steve Pfost

After a wet summer destroyed pumpkin crops last year and forced some farmers to import the Halloween staple in time for picking season, Long Island growers are optimistic about this year's bounty.

"I wouldn't call it the best crop ever but I'd call it pretty darn close," said Jim Stakey of Stakey's Pumpkin Farm, a pick-your-own 26-acre patch in Aquebogue. "Last year was a tear-jerker."

Last year, Tropical Storm Irene hit the Island in late August, capping an already soggy season and making pumpkins susceptible to rot and disease.

This year's dry, hot weather was punctuated by rainfall, and the key to healthy crops will be water, said Steve Ammerman, New York Farm Bureau spokesman. "It basically comes down to farmers who had irrigation. Those who were able to water are doing very well."

Pumpkins are big business. In 2011, the top six pumpkin-producing states farmed $113 million worth of crops, with New York coming in first with $23.63 million. In 2010, the state produced $35 million worth of pumpkins.

"I'm seeing some really nice crops," said Meg McGrath, associate professor in the plant pathology and plant-microbe biology department at Cornell University's Riverhead extension. "I'm seeing some nice diversity."

Suffolk County is the top pumpkin producer in the state, and Long Island has about 30 to 50 growers, said Joseph Gergela III, executive director of Long Island Farm Bureau. Soil diseases are always present, he said, but weren't as pervasive this year.

"We have a really nice crop coming," said Edward Harbes IV, production manager at Harbes Farm & Vineyard, which has pumpkin patches at its Mattituck, Riverhead and Jamesport farms. "They're looking good. We have a canopy. They're starting to orange up right now."

Harbes planted 50 acres this year with 24 varieties, and even though weather was dry, the farm used a special machine and ground cover to enhance water retention and prevent runoff.

Crop health will depend on how growers planted and tried to control disease and drainage, McGrath said. "Just like in our lifetime, we face a lot of diseases," she said. "Crops also face a lot of diseases."

Stakey, who planted 18 varieties, said he's not counting all his pumpkins just yet. "We're not through this whole thing yet," he said. "We're still in hurricane season. Who knows?"

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