DOVER, Del. (AP) — According to several top pumpkin growers in the state, yields suffered from heavy, continuous rain this growing season. For some, this meant a total "wipeout" of their crop.

Rick Dickerson, of Dickerson Farms in Laurel, said nothing was left of the 40 acres of pumpkins he planted this year.

By operation size, he believes he's the third largest grower in the state behind Vincent Farms also in Laurel and Fifer Orchards in Wyoming.

A period of two weeks during the late summer and early fall when the Laurel area was pounded with more than 15 inches of rain was probably the primary cause, said Mr. Dickerson.

Unfortunately for him, this is the third year in a row his yields have suffered.

Both farmers and the DOA agree, that despite a spate of poor weather, the state ordinarily has ideal conditions for growing pumpkins.

"I've never had a total wipeout three years in a row on the same crop like this," he said.

Mr. Dickerson attributes the losses to bad luck with the weather and "disease pressure."

"There has been a lot more disease pressure lately in our area for vine crops and the weather patterns are some of the strangest I've seen," he added. "I swear, it seems like it started raining on our vegetable gardens three years ago and it hasn't stopped since."

The bad luck caused him to reduce the amount of acres planted this year, down from the 60 acres he planted in 2016. After this season, he says he'll probably drop down to 30 acres in 2018.

"You can only get burned so many times before you have to get out of the game," he said.

On a good year, Mr. Dickerson's pumpkin crop accounts for around 20 percent of his farm's income.

Roland Pepper, owner of Mr. Pepper's Pumpkin Patch in Laurel, was also "wiped out." He said during the same two week period, much of his eight acres of pumpkins were underwater.

"They spent a lot of time in standing water and it's really detrimental — they just can't take conditions like that," Mr. Pepper said. "What we grew wasn't fit to sell. A lot of farmers in our area suffered."

Since Mr. Pepper runs a "patch," he still had to stock pumpkins for the fall season to sell retail. For this purpose, he had pumpkins trucked in from Pennsylvania.

Mid-state appeared to fare better. Fifer Orchards, the largest grower in the state by a comfortable margin, did still struggle with the weather, though.

"Our crop this year was just a little off," said Curt Fifer, one of the orchard's owner/operators. "We think that the rainy and cloudy summer may have had some effect on pollination with our earlier planted pumpkins."

According to Mr. Fifer, the orchard planted 550 acres of pumpkins this year. He noted that planting into a cover crop — a placeholder crop planted primarily to manage erosion and support cash crop planting conditions — likely helped.

"We no-till plant the pumpkins into a cover crop that provides a mat for the pumpkins," he said. "The cover crop guards the pumpkin from the soil which can cause disease on the pumpkin."

He also thinks fields that were planted a bit later in the season survived the conditions better.

"We're finding that our later planted fields are coming to the rescue with a pretty decent yield," said Mr. Fifer. "We will have a lot of pumpkins all the way up to Halloween for sure. We are picking pumpkins full blast this week and expect to do so all the way up to the cut off period for when the grocery stores stop taking shipments, which is typically Tuesday or Wednesday of next week."

Mr. Fifer said the orchards ship out hundreds of truckloads of pumpkins each year all up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

"It's a major crop for us," he said. "A lot go to New York and a ton go to Florida. A lot also stay in Marland, New Jersey and Virginia. Very little actually stay in the state just because of the population. We have shipped as far west as the Mississippi into Indiana and Illinois, too."

It was announced in late August that Punkin Chunkin was canceled this year. The event, often called "the chunk" allegedly originated from an argument between Sussex County friends over who could toss a pumpkin the farthest.

According to Delaware Department of Agriculture (DOA) survey data the amount of acres devoted to pumpkins has risen from about 780 in 2015 to 920 in 2016. However, the acres harvested have only risen from about 780 in 2015 to 920 in 2016.

The total "value of production" for fresh market pumpkins in the state is estimated to have been between $2 million and $2.3 million in the same three year period.

The data is produced in collaboration with the National Agricultural Statistics Service. A survey is sent out to the vegetable producers annually, compiled and checked in order to produce the reports. The data from this year won't be collected until later.

Average planting dates for pumpkins range between May 20 and June 15, said the DOA. Harvest usually gets started as early as Aug. 15 and can often run to Nov. 15, but the most active harvest is during October.

Both farmers and the DOA agree, that despite a spate of poor weather, the state ordinarily has ideal conditions for growing pumpkins.

"Delaware family farmers growing pumpkins have the benefit of a long growing season, nice light sandy loam soils and have access to irrigation," said Stacey Hofmann, a DOA spokeswoman. "Many of the Delaware farms that grow pumpkins have longevity in producing the crop, giving the current generation access to knowledge that has been passed down over time too."

Mr. Fifer, whose family has been growing pumpkins for over 20 years, says the drier the year, the better.

"Delaware is a good place to grow pumpkins because the soil is a sandy loam that drains well," he said. "Pumpkins like dry weather. It can be either dry or wet in Delaware, but typically we have a generally dry climate for growing pumpkins and they do well."

Mr. Dickerson is especially disappointed in recent conditions because he feels that Sussex County in specific is otherwise a great place to grow pumpkins.

"Sussex County is one of the best vegetable growing areas there is," he said. "You have sandy, well drained soils that veggies love. Under normal conditions, it'd be great. But this weather is the opposite of what they love."

It's been a hard year for pumpkins in Sussex County for another reason too. It was announced in late August that Punkin Chunkin was canceled this year. The event, often called "the chunk" allegedly originated from an argument between Sussex County friends over who could toss a pumpkin the farthest. The impromptu local contest grew through the years to include competitors who come from around the country to use air cannons, medieval contraptions and other devices to hurl pumpkins. At last year's event on Wheatley Farms, an air cannon malfunction critically injured a woman who was preparing a documentary for the Science Channel. A lawsuit related to the incident is currently pending.

Mr. Dickerson, who has held the contract to supply the chunk for the past six years, said if the event had happened he would have needed to purchase pumpkins from somewhere else just to fill the order. He hopes next year is better for the humble squash in Delaware.

"I'm hoping for better luck in 2018," he said. "Coming from a total wipeout, at least is can't get any worse."

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Information from: Delaware State News, http://delawarestatenews.net