SANTEE, CA — It’s the time of year to think about picking up a pumpkin or two near Santee, whether your search for the best takes you to patches and fields or your local grocery store.
In some areas, however, experts fear that heavy summer rains could have increased the likelihood of a blight that affects many vegetables including pumpkins, dampening the outlook for the pumpkin crop this fall.
California is a top producer of pumpkins in the United States, with around 4,386 acres harvested in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture census. The state ranked sixth for most acres harvested in 2017.
The USDA says six states — Illinois, California, Indiana, Michigan, Virginia and Texas — are responsible for 40 percent of pumpkin acres harvested. Together, they average between 4,700 and 5,600 acres of pumpkins a year, according to the USDA.
More recently, Illinois tops the list of pumpkin-producing states, harvesting about 10,900 acres in 2019. The other states among the top six have all averaged between 4,700 and 5,600 acres per year.
Four other states — Wisconsin, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania — account for another 20 percent of the pumpkins harvested in the country, meaning the top 10 pumpkin-producing states provide more than 60 percent of the country’s pumpkin output.
Phytophthora blight is a fungus that showed up earlier than usual in the states that produce the most pumpkins, Mohammad Babadoost, a professor of plant pathology at the University of Illinois, told Harvest Public Media in July.
Heavy rains in late June and early July caused the fungus to show up earlier than anticipated in Morton, Illinois, a village that produces more than 90 percent of the world’s canned pumpkin.
“After the middle of August, or close to the end of the season in September or so, it’s not so bad,” Babadoost said. “But this year, in the first week of July, is too much.”
It’s not yet known whether the fungus will lower the numbers of pumpkins produced in 2021. But Babadoost told Patch in an email statement he is “still observing some Phytophthora infection on pumpkins and other cucurbits (gourd plants).”