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The science of pumpkin production

Pumpkins are an important crop in Ohio, and on Halloween.

Ohio is one of the top producers of pumpkins in the U.S. Last year, the state’s farmers harvested 1.24 billion pounds of the fruit from 7,500 acres, with a farm value of $22.5 million.

To make sure Ohio remains a great pumpkin state, growers thrive, and consumers get a high-quality product, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) are constantly involved in research and outreach activities that cover various aspect of pumpkin production.

“I would not be anywhere where I am now without the information I get from Ohio State,” said Jon Branstrator, owner of Branstrator Farms in Clarksville, halfway between Dayton and Cincinnati. “I grow very good quality product, and that helps me sell it a lot better.”

Like many other growers around the state, Branstrator — who farms 250 acres, 60 of them dedicated to pumpkins and other specialty crops — has come to rely on the work of Ohio State experts to make important decisions that impact his operation.

For example, researchers and Extension specialists annually conduct experiments on the most critical issues facing pumpkin production in Ohio: insect and disease control.

“The insect we are most focused on is the striped cucumber beetle, which is the vector (carrier) for bacterial wilt, and we look for ways to control it either with pesticides or through cultural practices,” said Jim Jasinski, an OSU Extension educator with the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Program. “Later in the season growers always have trouble with powdery mildew, so we test a variety of fungicides to control that disease.”

Additional research deals with weed management, fertility issues and transplant media. Also of importance to the sustainability of this industry is the development of new pumpkin varieties, which are tested for disease resistance, quality and consistent yield season after season.

While some of this work is done in the laboratory or in greenhouses, the bulk of the research takes place at OARDC’s Western Agricultural Research Station in South Charleston and at the OSU South Centers at Piketon, in the form of field trials. These plots are also key to outreach and education, allowing producers to check out the results of trials by themselves and speak with researchers during annual field days.

“There are many things I wouldn’t be aware of without the work that Ohio State does,” pointed out Branstrator, who regularly attends field days at the Western station. “Thanks to the research on beneficial insects and IPM techniques I now save about 50 percent in insecticide costs. I also benefit from the work on fungicides to control downy mildew. I’m using a lot less fungicide, getting better results and having less residue on the fruit.”

Most of the pumpkins produced in Ohio are of the jack-o’-lantern type. Pumpkins are the third largest fresh market vegetable crop grown in the state and account for 10-40 percent of farm markets’ annual gross income.

OARDC and OSU Extension are the research and outreach arms of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

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