Drought Stunts Vegetable Contests At State Fairs

The drought this summer has impacted entries at state fairs across the country. Cattle, hogs, vegetables and more all are coming in much smaller and lighter because of the dry conditions. Melissa Block talks with Don Young, who submitted a much smaller pumpkin than normal to be judged at the Iowa State Fair.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

Now, to one illustration of this summer's drought. At the Iowa State Fair, the winning entry for this year's big pumpkin contest weighed in at 933 pounds. That's impressive, to be sure, but it's a long way from last year's winner. That pumpkin was 1,323 pounds, about 400 pounds bigger.

Joining me now is Des Moines is Don Young Sr., who grows pumpkins in Iowa. And along with his son, he took part in this year's contest at the state fair. Mr. Young, welcome.

DON YOUNG SR.: Hi.

BLOCK: How big was the pumpkin that you and your son entered at the fair this year?

SR.: Eight hundred and three pounds, I think it was.

BLOCK: Eight hundred three, that sounds like a whole lot of pumpkin, but that's off from the biggest pumpkin you've grown?

SR.: Right. Very poor.

BLOCK: Very poor. How big were the biggest have been?

SR.: Sixteen-fifty-eight.

BLOCK: No kidding, twice the size, more than twice the size.

SR.: Right.

BLOCK: Well, what's behind that? How does the drought affect pumpkins?

SR.: What hurt us was the heat, about six weeks over 100 degrees every day.

BLOCK: Wow.

SR.: That's what hurt, well, not only us, the farmers and our corn crop and the bean crop.

BLOCK: Well, if you're trying to grow a big pumpkin in a year that's as dry and hot as this one, what do you do?

SR.: We put shade cloth on (unintelligible) put shade cloth over the whole pumpkin patch so the sun wouldn't beat on it, but it still didn't do no good. Well, I guess, it did some.

BLOCK: Do you irrigate?

SR.: Oh, gosh. Irrigate.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Yeah.

SR.: We've got it all computerized, and it kicks on and off and this and that. And we've got drip lines and fine misters and everything you can imagine, but it didn't do no good because of the heat.

BLOCK: When you walk around the Iowa State Fair this year, Mr. Young, could you tell a difference all around? Could you tell that the animals were suffering? I've read that they're smaller - the animals that have...

SR.: Right. They are smaller, and the beef is smaller. The hog is, you know, it ain't just Iowa. It's the whole Midwest.

BLOCK: Mm-hmm.

SR.: I guess, what's going to happen is we're going to pay as a person later on down the line. We'll see that at the grocery store.

BLOCK: Yeah. In the food prices for sure.

SR.: Right. That's what I'd think and - but I talked to a farmer here just outside of Des Moines, and I said, well, your beans don't look too bad, and you go out - going out (unintelligible) here pop open some pods. They're little bitty, about, oh, a third the size they should be inside the pod, you know, the beans?

BLOCK: Yeah.

SR.: And I was bragging on him. I said, well, they're looking pretty good. He said, no, (unintelligible) after you walked out there and pop open (unintelligible) pods, you'll find out that the bean is real small inside. Now, I mean, I talked to one that comes up for the pumpkin thing. He's a farmer in Missouri, and their corn got about three-foot high and burned up.

BLOCK: Mm-hmm.

SR.: All over. It's just all over northern Missouri or anywhere. It ain't even worth - they just mowed it down...

BLOCK: Mm-hmm.

SR.: ...you know?

BLOCK: Well, Mr. Young, it's good of you to talk to us about it, and I hope things change soon for you.

(LAUGHTER)

SR.: I do too. Thank you very much too.

BLOCK: Take care.

SR.: Bye.

BLOCK: That's Don Young Sr. in Des Moines, Iowa. He grows pumpkins with his son.

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