PERFECTING PUMPKINS. Bobby Fifer says pumpkins probably wouldn’t be growing on his family farm if they hadn’t switched to no-till about 20 years ago at the nearly 100-year-old Fifer Orchards near Camden-Wyoming, Del. The 3,000-acre operation is host to about 300 acres of tree fruits like peaches and apples. They also raise asparagus, tomatoes, sweet corn, kale, cauliflower, grain corn and soybeans.

Tips for Successfully No-Tilling Pumpkins

A cleaner growing environment has helped Bobby Fifer hike pumpkin yields, but disease pressure and rotational challenges are still obstacles to overcome.

If it weren't for no-tilling, the Fifer family would have gotten out of the pumpkin business long ago, says Bobby Fifer.

When he was a child, his family started with about 5 acres of pumpkins on Fifer Orchards in Camden-Wyoming, Del. Growing up, his family became contract growers for a company in North Carolina, which provided them with enough demand to slowly climb to 100 acres about 20 years ago.

But their forward progress was dealt a serious blow when they lost their entire crop 2 years in a row due to phytophthora, a disease they continue to fight. The pumpkins had direct contact with freshly cultivated soil, making the widespread rot inevitable. 

“Once we realized what was going on, we said to ourselves, ‘Alright let’s give this one more chance, but we’ll try no-tilling to see if we can try to separate the soil from the pumpkin better,’” Fifer recalls. “It was so successful we never went back. Within a few years we went from less than 100 acres all the way up to around 550 acres now.”

More in the Bins

Fifer says the benefits of no-tilling are well known today among pumpkin farmers, as most people would be hard pressed to find anyone planting them in tilled ground in his area.

Quantified by bins per acre, pumpkin yield shot up for the Fifers from two back-to-back years of lost crops to 40 bins per acre immediately after switching to no-till. He also saved two cultivator passes across…

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Ian Gronau

Ian Gronau is a Contributing Editor for Lessiter Publications, with primary support responsibilities for Precision Farming Dealer, Strip-Till Strategies and the Strip-Till Farmer Website. He is a graduate of Chicago’s Columbia College and has been preparing content for magazines, websites and newspapers since 2009, and has been recognized with several awards.

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