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Pumpkin farmers have smashing crop despite drought

ST. LOUIS — Farmers in a stretch of Illinois where most of the nation’s pumpkins are grown say their crop looks relatively vibrant and is likely to be one of the few successes in a year when severe drought baked most of the nation’s heartland.

The drought forced thousands of ranchers to sell off cattle because pastures were too dry to graze, and corn and soybean farmers watched their plants wither in the summer sun. But John Ackerman said most of the pumpkins he planted fared ‘‘fantastic’’ for a simple, single reason: Pumpkins like dry weather.

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“Pumpkins have been kind of a bright spot in production this year,’’ said Ackerman, 51, whose farm is near Morton, Ill.

A relative of squash, ­cucumbers, watermelons, and cantaloupe, pumpkins tend to thrive in warm, temperate climates that stave off fungus, mold, and other rind-rotting diseases that spread in wet conditions, said Dan Egel, a plant pathologist with Purdue University’s extension.

Also, pumpkins grown from seeds — the most common way — have tremendous root systems that reach deep into the ground, enabling them to reach moisture that corn and other crops without taproots cannot find.

‘‘I think we’re going to have a pretty decent crop of pumpkins,’’ Egel said.

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