Robert Nibbe knows a thing or two about pumpkins. And what he knows is this year’s pumpkin harvest has been less than ideal for some.

Nibbe owns Boys-N-Berries Farm in Brainerd, which now includes 15 acres worth of pumpkins and gourds as well as corn stalks, straw bales, mums and more attracting visitors.

“We have a center pivot irrigator that can irrigate about 13 (acres), so we just filled in the corners,” Nibbe said of expanding his pumpkin patch from last year. “Now, the corners actually didn't do so well with the drought.”

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Annie Klodd is a University of Minnesota Extension educator for fruit crops like apples, grapes and berries. She knows drought can impact pumpkin yield.

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“I'll see a farm on Facebook saying that they have fewer pumpkins than usual this year,” Klodd said. “Or I will visit a farm and they'll be like, ‘Oh, yeah, the pumpkin harvest is going to be tough because we had low germination.’”

People at Boys-N-Berries Farm on St. Mathias Road sort and look through pumpkins in the flatbed of a truck on Tuesday, Oct. 12.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
People at Boys-N-Berries Farm on St. Mathias Road sort and look through pumpkins in the flatbed of a truck on Tuesday, Oct. 12. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Pumpkin patch

Pumpkins and winter squash are among the most popular vine crops in the garden, according to the University of Minnesota Extension website.

“From a botanical standpoint, they are fruit,” Klodd said of pumpkins. “From a culinary standpoint, we call them ‘vegetables’ … Biologically speaking, anything which seeds inside of it is technically a ‘fruit.’”

Pumpkins range in size from less than 1 pound to more than 1,000 pounds, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, and those in the 10- to 25-pound range are primarily used for fall decorations, carved into jack-o’-lanterns, but can also be used for processing.

Pumpkins and winter squash are among the most popular vine crops in the garden, according to the University of Minnesota Extension website.

“From a botanical standpoint, they are fruit,” Klodd said of pumpkins. “From a culinary standpoint, we call them ‘vegetables.’ … Biologically speaking, anything with seeds inside of it is technically a fruit.”

Pumpkins range in size from less than 1 pound to more than 1,000 pounds, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, and those in the 10- to 25-pound range are primarily used for fall decorations, carved into jack-o’-lanterns, but can also be used for processing.

“We don't have any data showing whether or not the pumpkin harvest, in general, is lower this year — not for a given part of the state or the whole state,” Klodd said. “In general, drought can impact pumpkin yield and pumpkin size, for sure.”

Miniature-sized pumpkins weigh less than 1 pound and typically are used for decorative purposes, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, while pie pumpkins range in many sizes; however, the 5- to 10-pound pie pumpkins are most often grown.

“The weather was huge for people that did not have irrigation. We invested in a center pivot irrigator about seven years ago, so we're able to irrigate,” Nibbe said of the land he purchased in 1999 from which the proceeds go to his boys’ college fund, and for which the farm is named.

Drought conditions

Drought conditions continued to slowly improve in Minnesota earlier this month, with extreme drought dropping from 23.58% to 17.58%, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, and the percentage of the state that has come out of drought conditions rose from 6.5% to 9.8%.

“Pumpkins need an inch of water a week, and we were able to get them that, so they weren't stressed for water at all this year,” Nibbe said. “But if they’re stressed, though, they’ll put out smaller pumpkins and they might not be as well-formed.”

Klodd said, “If a farmer is growing on really sandy soil and there's a drought, then that soil can't hold on to as much water, and so that drought is probably going to have a bigger impact than if someone's growing on a heavy soil that holds on to water well.”

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According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, nearly 66,200 acres of pumpkins were harvested in the U.S. in 2020, producing more than 1.5 billion pounds of usable pumpkins with more than 2 billion produced overall.

“One of the things that drought can do is it can impact how well the pumpkin seeds germinate after they plant them, so even if we have a drought, if a farmer goes in and waters his pumpkin seeds right after planting, he might get really good germination,” Klodd said.

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llinois, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Michigan, California, Ohio, North Carolina and Texas — the top nine pumpkin-producing states — produced nearly 75% of the nation’s total pumpkin harvest.

“With dry conditions, in particular, there can be low germination meaning there's going to be fewer pumpkins in a field than there typically would because if there's no water during the time when the seeds are germinating … some of those seeds just aren't going to grow,” Klodd said.

Vine crops need at least 1 inch of water each week, from rainfall or irrigation, during the growing season, according to the University of Minnesota Extension, to grow healthy pumpkins like these at Boys-N-Berries Farm in Brainerd.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Vine crops need at least 1 inch of water each week, from rainfall or irrigation, during the growing season, according to the University of Minnesota Extension, to grow healthy pumpkins like these at Boys-N-Berries Farm in Brainerd. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“With dry conditions, in particular, there can be low germination meaning there's going to be fewer pumpkins in a field than there typically would because if there's no water during the time when the seeds are germinating … some of those seeds just aren't going to grow.”

Klodd said dry conditions later in the growing season — July through August — could result in smaller fruit.

There’s also a danger of too much water for pumpkins.

“One of the things that can cause a pumpkin grower to lose some pumpkins, especially in a wet year, is that there are certain diseases like bacterial spot, (which) is one of the diseases that rely on really wet conditions,” Klodd said.

Drought and bacterial spot are not the only things that can impact a pumpkin harvest — they also can be a favored treat of wildlife. Boys-N-Berries Farm has an 8-foot fence protecting 20 acres from deer.

“We have to keep the deer off the pumpkin patch because they'll like everything from the vines to the green immature ones to the full-grown pumpkins,” Nibbe said.

By the numbers

Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Michigan, California, Ohio, North Carolina and Texas — the top nine pumpkin-producing states — produced nearly 75% of the nation’s total pumpkin harvest.

Illinois remains the leading processed pumpkin-producing state, producing more than the other five leading states combined and about half of the national total, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.

Retail prices for all pumpkin varieties in 2020, on average, were up slightly from in 2019, with the average U.S. farm price for pumpkins about 8 cents per pound, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.


“In general, drought can impact pumpkin yield and pumpkin size, for sure.” ”

— Annie Klodd, University of Minnesota Extension educator


How to keep your pumpkins healthy and productive

  • Vine crops need at least one inch of water each week, from rainfall or irrigation, during the growing season.

  • Always soak the soil thoroughly when watering.

  • Water sandy soils more frequently, but with lower amounts applied at any one time.

  • Use a drip hose, soaker hose or careful watering of the soil, so that the leaves stay dry. Do not use a sprinkler or spray the plants with a regular hose.

  • Trellised plants growing vertically may require watering more often.

Source: University of Minnesota Extension

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL.