Jose F. Moreno  /  AP file
Compared to 2005's bounty — as seen in this photo from Lawrence Township, N.J. — farmers may not be as lucky this year.
updated 10/5/2006 7:02:31 AM ET 2006-10-05T11:02:31

Halloween lovers hoping to create the perfect jack-o-lantern might want to shop carefully this year because of a pumpkin fungus that has put a dent in some crops.

Two types of fungus or rot have affected crops from the Midwest to New England, causing pumpkins to develop mold in some spots and then begin decomposing, said Daniel Egel, a Purdue University Extension plant pathologist.  The entire inside of the pumpkin eventually rots until the shell falls apart.

A combination of high temperatures and record rain in August has helped the fungi flourish, Egel said.

Nina Kent, co-owner of Kent's Cucurbits in White County, said one variety of her pumpkins has about 85 percent loss because of the rot.

"We really didn't know until we went out and started picking around the 17th of September," she said. "It's as if they're rotting from the inside out."

The rot has also hit Purdue University's Meigs Farm in Lafayette. Karen Rane, a plant disease diagnostician, turned over a pumpkin and the underside collapsed in her hands.

"It's sporadic across the state," she said.

The pumpkin problems may mean more shopping for Halloween lovers like Lafayette resident Dave Gray. Gray decorates his home each year and said he buys as many pumpkins as possible to create jack-o-lanterns.

"As a kid, I liked it better than Christmas because you get to dress up," Gray said.

At D&R Market in Lafayette, for example, jumbo pumpkins are not being sold this year. Tad Ritchie, a produce worker at the market, said the store had to stop selling the larger varieties because its supplier had none healthy enough to pick.

The market is selling normal size pumpkins, but Ritchie fears that supply could run out before Halloween.

"My grower told me he's only getting about a 40 percent yield," Ritchie said. "It'll be bad for anybody that doesn't get one by about the 15th of October."

Shoppers should look for bright orange pumpkins with strong, green stems, which indicate the fruit was picked recently while the vine was healthy, Egel said. Consumers should also check for moldy areas or soft spots, especially on the bottom of the pumpkins, he said. Pumpkins should be stored in dry, shady areas until carving.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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