Illinois pumpkin crops make healthy return after shortage
MORTON, Ill. (AP) — Agriculture experts say pumpkin crops in central Illinois are still recovering, but improving two years after heavy rain decimated area yields.
Jim Ackerman, an agriculture manager at the Nestle-owned Libby’s plant in Morton, said the 2017 crop of pumpkins has improved from last year and is looking a little better than average.
“We got started in July this year, so a good, early start,” Ackerman said. “We’re about half done with harvest, so that’s a good place to be.”
Last year, the crop returned to healthy status with average to above average yields of 22 to 23 tons per acre on the roughly 8,000 acres where Libby’s sources its main ingredient.
The plant is a 24/7 operation once the harvest begins. The facility receives 20-ton truckloads of pumpkins for processing and canning daily, and contracted crews clear about 70 to 80 acres per day.
Ackerman said he now relies on remote weather sensors and technology throughout the plant to determine when to sow and crop the harvest.
“They send out 24-hour rainfall amounts every morning, so we’re able to help farmers get planted on dry days,” Ackerman said. “It helps us to judge how the crop is doing throughout the season.”
The pumpkin harvest will continue until the first hard freeze.
Pumpkin vines were drowned by heavy rains in June 2015 during a critical stage of development that led to a widespread pumpkin shortage.