Feature

The 'Great Pumpkin Shortage' of 2011

Halloween might be a little less festive this year for many would-be Jack-o-lantern carvers. Here's a gloomy guide

In case you were running out of things to fret about: Much of the eastern United States is facing a major shortage of pumpkins. From the Midwest to the Atlantic seaboard, and all the way up into Canada, severe weather, disease, and other factors have combined to make this a terrible year for pumpkin-picking. Here, a guide to the "Great Pumpkin Shortage":

What exactly caused this year's pumpkin shortage?Three main factors: First, Heavy rains in spring and early summer — and subsequent flooding — delayed the planting season for some pumpkin farmers. Second, an outbreak of a fungus called phytophthora that thrives in wet conditions wiped out many pumpkin patches. Finally, Hurricane Irene dealt a pivotal blow to pumpkin growers: One farmer in upstate New York "saw his entire crop, about 15,000 to 20,000 pumpkins, washed into Lake Champlain," says the Associated Press.

Will unscrupulous people start hoarding pumpkins?It’s possible: "Pumpkin profiteering" has been reported in some areas, and wholesale prices have doubled, according to farmers in the Northeast. As a result, consumers will find pumpkins more expensive. The shortage could have a serious financial impact on farmers who depend on late crops like pumpkins, and on those who run tourist attractions built around pumpkin-picking.

What should consumers do?First, "get your pumpkins early," says Long Island pumpkin farmer Jim Stakey. But if you can't find one, try carving an "altern-o-lantern" this Halloween: Squash-o-lanterns, watermelon-o-lanterns, and apple-o-lanterns are all viable options, says Edith Zimmerman at The Hairpin.

Sources: Associated Press, Riverfront Times, The Hairpin, TIME

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