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Northern Utah farmers battle warty problem

By Mike Anderson | Posted - Oct 22nd, 2012 @ 5:51pm

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WEBER COUNTY -- Warts are for witches, not for pumpkins.

Aphids are putting a damper on the Halloween spirit for many Utah farmers by spreading disease and leaving an unusually high number of pumpkins disfigured.

Chances are you've bought a pumpkin or squash with a few warts. For the decorative variety, it's not a huge problem. But when it comes to the squash you eat - grocers won't purchase any with warts. In some cases, that meant throwing out about 20 percent of the crop this year.

At the Favero farm in Weber County, workers are busy preparing one of their last fall shipments. By the time they're through, they'll have boxed up some 4,000 cases of squash for markets all over the country.

Co-owner Tom Favero says the first crop looked great, but the second harvest revealed something ugly.

"When we cut second crop hay, we noticed our pumpkin vines had started to change," he said.

Many of the squash had green streaks, others warts.

"We had a few strange-looking pumpkins mixed in," Favero said.

It's called the watermelon mosaic virus. It's still safe to eat, but not so attractive to buyers. Agricultural experts think the disease is spread by aphids.

James Barnhill works at the Utah State University Agricultural Extension. He says when farmers cut their hay fields, insects often move on to the next crop. And while no one is certain why the warts are so prevalent this year, Barnhill thinks it may be thanks to the large number of aphids in Utah fields.

"We've never seen it this bad before," he said. "It wasn't just here, it was through northern Utah."

Much of the squash had to be thrown out, and those that do make it to market -- bumps and all -- just aren't the same.

"It makes the crop really small," said Favero. "Your normal-sized 15- to 25-pound pumpkins turned out to about eight to 10 pounds."

Favero says it's not enough to make a huge dent this year, but any time you lose product there's an impact on the bottom line.

"It can hurt the pocketbook pretty bad before the season is over," he said.

For some specialty farmers, those warts can help the pocketbook. Some people think they add a little character and a certain Halloween ambience.

Now that farmers know this is a growing problem, the challenge will be to get on top of it before next year's crop.


Mike Anderson

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