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Drought Leads to Smaller, More Expensive Pumpkins

California's drought spares no plant, animal, or land, and has threatened everything from honey and salmon to wine and almond milk. Farmers have even taken to dry farming, an ancient technique in which crops are grown without irrigation (good in that it saves water, but bad in that yields are significantly lower).

Now, the drought has claimed another casualty: pumpkins.

Next to Illinois, California is the country's second-largest pumpkin producer. (And large it is — a pumpkin from Napa Valley took home the grand prize in the Safeway World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-off in Half Moon Bay this year. The gourd weighed 2,058 pounds and set a new tournament record.)

While farmers across the state have reported fairly average crops, many are fearing the continuing impacts of the drought on their pumpkin patches.

In an interview with public radio station KPCC, John Boss, a farmer at Dutch Hollow Farms in Modesto, said, "Everyone's sizing down because of heat or lack of water."

Some farmers have had to pump more water out of the ground in order to produce this year's crop, driving up the cost of business.

Wayne Martin, a farmer in Fresno who grows pumpkins on 60 acres of land, told NBC News, "The financial impact has really hurt. We've had to pay more for the water and that means consumers will pay more."

Martin's pumpkins sell for about 15% more than they did last year. The national average is around 50 cents per pound.

Conservation efforts had some producers using drip irrigation on their crops, which — while it does save water — often leads to an invasion of crop-damaging insects.

Unseasonably hot weather and drastic water cutbacks have also caused pumpkins to ripen prematurely (at least two or three weeks earlier than usual), leading to smaller pumpkins.

So, with more expensive pumpkins, pest-infested pumpkins, and smaller pumpkins all part of the norm, it looks to be a frowny Jack o'Lantern kind of year for Californians.

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