Pumpkin, Apple Crops Not Dampened by June Rains

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Temperatures have begun to cool, trees are tinted with red and orange and pumpkins once again are in vogue. Hay rides and bunches of corn stalks seem commonplace.

Autumn has returned. Even with a wet start to the pumpkin growing season – followed by a dry end to it – this year’s crop still seems to be in pretty good shape.

“The quality is excellent but the size is down a little bit from previous years because of the dry weather. All in all, though, I’m happy with the crop we have,” says Sam Detwiler, owner of Detwiler Farms in Columbiana.

About two-thirds of Detwiler’s seeds were planted around June 7, he says, the rest the following couple weeks to stagger the ripening of his crop. The goal is to allow customers who come near the end of the picking season to have just as much variety as those who arrive at the beginning.

This year at Molnar Farms in Poland, the first group of seeds in June ran into problems with all the rain, says manager Rick Molnar. That month, the Youngstown area got just over nine inches of rain and only six days without precipitation, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“In June, when we were putting everything in the ground, there were a few spots in our patch where the pumpkins got washed out,” he says. “Then after that it got dry, we irrigated the patch to get a pretty nice crop after you consider everything we had to go through.”

The extra rain didn’t hurt the apples, though, says Haus Orchard & Cider Mill co-owner Cheryl Haus.

“This year’s apple crop was very good, much better than last year when we had a very light crop,” she reports. “So we’re excited that we’re back to that good crop this year.”

The straw harvest this year was also helped out by the dry weather in late summer, Molnar adds.

“After we cut the wheat and got the straw off, we bailed it pretty quickly and were able to get it in that nice golden color,” he says. “In past years, we’ve had it where the straw sits in the field because of rain and it ends up a blackish-gray.”

Despite the inclement weather cutting some of the growing season short, no farms will raise its prices this year. Both Molnar and Detwiler are selling their pumpkins at 35 cents per pound, while the going rate at Haus – which doesn’t grow its own pumpkins – is 40 cents.

That price, Molnar notes, will be about the same everywhere in the Mahoning Valley.

“We work with all the other growers in the area to figure out a price that makes it worthwhile to plant. We can at least get our money back on the seed and make a little bit on them,” he explains. “It’s not like we’re way high or way below anyone else. We want to make sure the prices are similar.”

At Haus, apple prices have held, coming in at between $11 and $12 per peck – about a dollar per pound – for all varieties except for honeycrisp apples. Bushels, established as 48 pounds by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are between $28 and $29 each.

“Honeycrisps are a very hard apple to grow, so there’s a lot of grading going on in that particular breed,” Haus says. “Instead of just going out and picking them, there’s a lot more picking and choosing.”

For small farms such as Detwiler’s, fall and all that comes with it such as corn mazes and hay rides, can help financially as well. Detwiler Farms sits on 15 acres, 10 dedicated to pumpkins and four to a corn maze. When he plants seeds, each acre gets 3,000 to 4,000 pumpkin seeds, he says.

“We’re a small farm that does a little bit of grain on the side. It’s hard to make money on grain without a lot of acres,” he says. “This is something we can do on our farm in a good way and be profitable with it.”

What might turn things a little more in his favor this year is that smaller crop of pumpkins. National chains might carry fewer this year, he believes, giving people a reason to travel down state Route 11 to his farm.

“I’m sure the chains will still have some, but it might be a little more scarce than other years,” he says. “People live busy lives and it’s convenient to stop by a store and pick one up. But we offer an experience. So if they’re willing to let go of some of the convenience, they can come get a full experience at a real farm.”

And that experience is what really draws people out, he says. Customers from Girard and Liberty to visit him and he is starting to run into the second generation of customers.

“We’re starting to get the people who came out as kids coming back with their own kids. We get families where Grandma and Grandpa bring everyone out and make it a family event,” Detwiler says. “When people are here, they’re happy and having a good time. That’s what’s enjoyable for us.”

Pictured: Sam Detwiler is the owner of Detwiler Farms in Columbiana.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.