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UPDATED: Dorian final straw in bad year for pumpkins; regatta in Windsor also cancelled


No pumpkin regatta in Windsor and a severe shortage of jack-o-lanterns and squash are the latest impacts of hurricane Dorian on Nova Scotia farms.

More concerning than the regatta cancellation is that losses to regular pumpkins and squash crops in the province are also heavy.

Danny Dill of Dill Family Farm in Windsor, the home of the Dill’s Atlantic Giant variety, said 2019 has been a tough year.

“It was a triple-D year,” he said at his farm Monday. “We had the drenching in the spring, then the drought this summer, and then Dorian.”

The growing season had a very late start with May and June being exceptionally wet and fields unable to be plowed and planted, and then July and August were very hot and dry, hampering growth of the pumpkins.

Dorian was the final straw, twisting and breaking stems on pumpkins already growing, and damaging vines and leaves that provide nutrients needed for growth.

“I know my pumpkins are only half the size they should be for this time of year,” Dill said. He normally provides up to 60 pumpkins for the regatta to ensure there are enough for all entrants, but everything has combined to have his pumpkins only at about 300-400 pounds at best at this point.

With the damage sustained there is no real chance that enough — if any — will reach the 270-360 kilogram (600-800 pound) size needed to be used for the regatta next month, if they grow at all.

Four kids try to get their massive pumpkin off the bottom of Lake Pisiquid during the 2018 Pumpkin Regatta. - Colin Chisholm
Four kids try to get their massive pumpkin off the bottom of Lake Pisiquid during the 2018 Pumpkin Regatta. - Colin Chisholm

“Other growers are in the same boat, but some didn’t have a lot of damage,” Dill said. That means that the giant pumpkin weigh off will still go ahead next month as planned.

But regular pumpkins — used for pies decorations and jack-o-lanterns, are the main crop for Dill. He estimates his losses there and in his squash fields at 70 to 80 per cent because of the growing conditions and Dorian. That translates to thousands of pumpkins.

“We needed an awesome September, and we didn’t get it,” he said. “A lot of the pumpkins are just starting to set fruit. A lot of them are green, and I don’t know if they’re going to reach maturity.”

He said those pumpkins “are the bulk of my fall business. They’re the bulk of my farm. You’ve got one kick at the can in the month of October.”

Dill has talked to other growers who have the same concerns in P.E.I. and New Brunswick.

“I don’t know if people in Nova Scotia realize it, but pumpkins are going to be very scarce this year,” he said. “I was talking to another grower who normally grows 2,000 or 3,000 pumpkins; he said they don’t even have enough to sell out of their local stand.”

This season’s difficulties follow last year’s late frost and hot, dry summer.

“It’s really been challenging for (growers) the last couple of years,” Dill said.

VanEssa Roberts of the Windsor-West Hants Pumpkin Festival Society said the group is looking for a plan B to replace the regatta on Oct. 19.

“The long-standing sponsors of the festival ... still want to celebrate the festival and celebrate pumpkins because we are the home of the giant pumpkins,” she said.

She said organizers met Friday and Monday to look at what they can do instead.

“I think by the end of the week we’ll have a tweak on what we’ve always been doing,” she said.

There are other events happening that day, she said, including the Devour! food festival event.

“We’re trying to figure out a way right now to make this a fundraiser for our farmers in the Valley and Nova Scotia,” Roberts said. “We’re reaching out to agricultural organizations to find out how we can fundraise and who we would give the money to so it goes back to farmers in need.”

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