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'Farming Is A Gamble': Some Minnesota Pumpkin, Apple Farms Seeing Smaller Yields Amid Drought

ROCKFORD, MINN. (WCCO) -- A popular fall activity might not look the same thanks to the state's record drought.

Some pumpkin and apple farms are reporting smaller yields or smaller crops, while others struggled to get anything to grow.

Spanning decades along Highway 55 on the far western edge of Hennepin County, Melvin Knapton, owner of Knapton's Farm and Orchard for 43 years, has the same feeling ahead of every harvest.

"Farmers always worry," Knapton said.

The drought fueled his concern this year, even though pumpkins can handle dry weather.

"We knew that we'd have a crop, but we didn't know how big of a crop," he said.

Using water typically reserved for tomatoes in their greenhouse, Knapton and his sons would feed the pumpkin patches, among many other crops and produce. Coupled with some late summer rainfall, his pumpkins had just enough nourishment to grow this year.

"Size wise [they're] a little smaller, a little bit lighter," Knapton said.

Same goes for the apple trees that might pack a smaller, but still tasty punch.

Pumpkins and Gourds
(credit: CBS)

Part of the reason Knapton feels lucky to have any sort of yield this year is because of where the farm is located in Minnesota. Not because of how much rain might have fallen in the Rockford area, but because of the type of soil in the ground.

"We do not have irrigation, but our soil is heavy," he said. "People on sandier ground, like I think Anoka is a lot sandier, I think some of their patches didn't do well at all."

As was the case for Windmill Acres Pumpkin Patch in Cambridge. Owner John Challender said they planted two acres of pumpkin seeds by hand into soil that was comparable to a bag of cement mix.

"We were planting in just dust," Challender said.

By early July he had a feeling nothing would grow. By August, his unfortunate prediction was accurate.

"It was so dry, there was no moisture for them to even shoot a leaf up through the ground," he said.

The farm will open this Saturday with its prized corn maze as the main feature. Pumpkins will be there, but not from their land. He said they had to acquire them from neighboring farms that can afford irrigation.

"You just look ahead to next year and you're hoping that it's gonna be a better year," Challender said.

Panting seeds of hope, while praying to sprout some luck.

"Farming is a gamble [laughs]!" Knapton said.


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