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Reduced harvest being forecast for many melon, pumpkin producers

Kelly Larson stands in Larsons' Melons on the Curve, west of Forestburg, Friday morning during a time of the season that should be busy with activity. Kelly and his brother Paul planted around 40 acres of melons, pumpkins and squash this year. About 30 of those acres are still underwater due to this year's record rainfall. While there wasn't much left to harvest, the Larsons say what was left were some of the best melons they have seen in years. (Chris Huber/Republic Photo)

FORESTBURG -- Melon producers Kelly and Paul Larson are eager to close the books on the 2010 growing season.

Heavy rainfall swamped many fields this year, drowning most of their melon and pumpkin crops.

The Larson brothers, who operate the Larsons' Melons on the Curve stand three miles west of Forestburg on Highway 34, lost 30 of 40 acres of melons, pumpkins and squash on low-lying fields. Last week's rain added more unwelcome moisture.

"Since the first of June, we've recorded right at 30 inches of rain," Kelly Larson said. "It has been the most trying year I have ever experienced. I don't know if we're going to meet expenses.

"I'd like to have a T-shirt made up -- 'I survived 2010.'"

This year's excessive rainfall follows a recent pattern in which melon producers have faced complications in generating a crop.

Last year, wet and cool weather wasn't ideal for watermelons and other produce that prefer drier conditions.

May 2009 planting for the Larsons' cousin, Skip, was postponed because of cool temperatures that would have killed any developing plants. While plants were saved after wet and cool conditions took a toll, Skip Larson spent at least 20 hours replanting melons by hand. The weather delayed melon harvest for him, but his squash crop came in without incident.

Then in 2008, some farmers -- including Kelly Larson -- had their crop pelted by hail that July. He purchased watermelons from area farmers to sell at the stand until the second setting of his crop could be harvested.

As of now, Kelly Larson said 80 percent of his farm land is under water. The area sits in a basin with no drainage, and time is the only solution to lowering the water.

"We had the most beautiful crop of melons you had ever seen and overnight, they went," he said.

The surviving plants managed to receive enough heat for a viable crop to pick and stock at the stand.

This season, Paul Larson said they had to buy 75 percent of their musk melons from a supplier to boost their stock. His brother, Kelly, said their stand has a few squash, but hardly any pumpkins and gourds.

Rains knocked off the blossoms on pumpkin plants, leaving them unable to set fruit.

More than anything, quantity -- not quality -- has been a factor. The Larsons still have some pickup loads of produce left to harvest.

"What we do have is good," Kelly Larson said.

Customers have told Larson that they think this incredibly wet year is a once-in-a-lifetime event.

And he certainly hopes that is true. Because he doesn't want to repeat 2010.

Gay Swenson and her daughters, who operate a wholesale business in Woonsocket, were more fortunate than some growers. They finished picking their melon crop a couple weeks ago.

Swenson's fields were on higher ground on the edge of town where water could drain into ditches.

Yet her family lost three to five acres out of 40 acres of melons and musk melons and two to three acres of pumpkins out of 16 total.

Despite the losses, Swenson figures that she fared better this year after hail destroyed a large portion of her crop.

Aside from growing challenges, the extremely wet weather created difficult working conditions in terms of tending and picking the melon crop.

"It was just a trying year," Swenson said. "You couldn't get out there to work the fields and worry about weeds."