SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) – Halloween is just days away which means it is the busiest time of year for Central New York farms.
There are harvests festivals to attend and pumpkins to pick and apples to turn into pies and cider. Oh, and about those pumpkins. Local farmers are trying to balance their pumpkin picking schedules with festival schedules.
Paulie Drexler of Springside Farm said because the pandemic kept people indoors for so long people are itching to attend outdoor activities with others.
“We’re busier than we’ve ever been. This last weekend was exhausting and wonderful and awful and a blast all at the same time,” Drexler said. “And I think as a corollary to the pandemic, people really found out the advantage of being outdoors.”
Karen Bleier, a Central New Yorker, brought her child come to Springside Farm to enjoy this beautiful season. The festival made this fall event even greater.
“My child just loves it and there’s a lot to do for the kids, like in the corn maze,” Bleier said. “It’s just a good place for more entertainment .”
There is a cloud to all the fun. However, the summer’s drought had a terrible impact on most farms in CNY. Many farmers have experienced a significant reduction in fall harvest production, especially pumpkins, as a result of the dry weather.
Although Springside Farm used many methods, such as water trucks, manual watering and spreading higher organic matter, it still could not recover the damage caused by the drought.
Drexler estimates Springside Farm alone saw a 10% to 30% reduction this year in pumpkin production. Compared to nearby farms, his loss was minimal.
“We are blessed with are two excellent wells with a ridiculous amount of water,” Drexler said. “Some farms do not have wells with that capability.
“We used to plant three acres, and we probably planted six acres this year,” she said. “However, that had nothing to do with the drought. That was just because we decided to plant more pumpkins.”
More serious, the decrease in production of pumpkins and other crops has led to an increase in the price of crops this fall. Compared to previous years, people will spend more on vegetables this year.
According to Drexler, with the yield down and some minor suppression of the size of pumpkins, there is no exact price increase for pumpkins, which are determined by each farm and farmer’s market and even supermarkets.
“We charged by the pound and we went up a nickel a pound,” Drexler said. “For pumpkins we sell our large carving pumpkins by the pound, which we feel is the fairest way, rather than randomly.”
Many Central New Yorkers have noticed the price increase of vegetables. Andy Rose is one of them.
“I hadn’t really noticed the pumpkins being so much more expensive, but everything else seems to be yes,” Rose said.
If the drought is the indirect cause of the increase in vegetable prices, another cause was the need for a larger labor force. Because of the drought, Springside Farm hired more people to keep the pumpkins moist and hydrated for the fall harvest because of the dry weather.
“A lot of it has to do with wages you have to pay and that cost has to be passed on,” Drexler said. “We’ve increased our short term, weekend staffing and all of that is an added cost.”
Which made planning the planting of pumpkins difficult.
“If we had just allowed things to take its course, we would not have had the yield of pumpkins we had.” Drexler said.
With New York’s labor board having decided to subject agricultural workers to a 40-hour work week, Drexler said this will be restrictive for immigrant workers employed on some farms.
“It’s actually the cost of labor that, well, wages have gone up. If you want good help, you have to pay them,” Drexler said.
“But there’s a lot of vegetable farms and apple farms and orchards and wineries that use a lot of migrant labor. Those migrants are going to choose a state where they can earn all the money they want, and not be subjected to (New York State’s restrictive) rules,” Drexler said.
While the impact of the dry season on Springside Farm is considered manageable, it has caused irreparable damage to many of the remaining CNY farm crops. So, for now, enjoy every pumpkin lying in the farm fields. They are not only a gift to Central New Yorkers this fall, they are a reminder of the bounty that Central New York farmers supply us.