A Big Shortage Of Pumpkins? A Ghastly Myth

LAST-minute pumpkin shoppers can relax.

While some of the press have pushed the panic button, warning that crops are small and many people could be caught short this Halloween, pumpkin purveyors are out to squash the myth that there aren't enough of these ghoulish gourds to go around.

Yes, it's true that the nation's ornamental pumpkin harvest (those pumpkins grown specifically for jack-o'-lanterns) is smaller this year than last - about 25 to 30 percent smaller, according to the International Pumpkin Association (IPA) in San Francisco.

Thus pumpkin prices have jumped 10 to 15 percent, the IPA reports. (But many farmers say they're holding down prices to keep customers.) Plenty of Pumpkins This Year

Still, there's no reason to get spooked. Ray Waterman, president of the World Pumpkin Confederation in Collins, N.Y., describes as "the big hoax of '95" the story that there are no pumpkins available.

Generally, he says, there are three pumpkins grown for every trick-or-treater. This year there's one.

This Halloween it's the cattle who will feel the pumpkin pinch, quips Terry Pimsleur, president of IPA, since they're the ones who usually get the leftovers. "They just won't get as many this year," she says.

Pumpkin patches across the country were haunted by several frightful conditions: the lack of rain in New England, intense heat in the Midwest, and the fact that, unbeknownst to growers, the bees failed to do their normally efficient pollination job.

In New England, where drought damage was spotty, farmers have complained less of slim pickings and more of punier pumpkins. The average pumpkin has been about 15 to 20 percent smaller, says Rich Bonanno, president of the New England Vegetable and Berry Growers Association.

The proof, he says, is in the giant pumpkin. This year's winner of the New England Giant Pumpkin Weigh-off at the Topsfield Fair held this month was almost 200 pounds lighter than last year's 914-pound record-breaker. Many growers expected this year's winner to hit the half-ton mark, he says. But nothing doing. No rain, no gain.

Robert Connors, who runs Connors Farm in Danvers, Mass., says this week he had some pumpkins trucked in to replenish his stock. But, he adds, there's no chance of customers going home empty handed: "They're everywhere."

Most last-minute buyers at Volante Farms in Needham, Mass., weren't concerned that they wouldn't find a pumpkin. Although one customer, third-grader Jeffrey Rudberg, says the selection looked smaller. "Yes, I can definitely tell," he said pointing to the mound.

Most of the pumpkins grown in the United States are for commercial use, Ms. Pimsleur says. Those remained largely unaffected because commercial growers rely on sophisticated irrigation systems rather than Mother Nature.

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