MORTON — Pumpkins may not be in season for most of us, but for John Ackerman, Morton farmer, pumpkins are on his mind. Ackerman plants corn and soybeans, which have both been delayed due to weather, but more than anything else, Ackerman is a pumpkin farmer.
“I’m a pumpkin geek,” Ackerman said.
So far this planting season, Ackerman’s fields were empty. According to Ackerman, all the rain has made his ground compacted and difficult to plant seed.
Until Friday, June 7, Ackerman was unable to plant a single pumpkin seed, and now he is off by almost a month for growing pumpkins.
Like many other farmers, Ackerman contemplated the choice of prevent planting insurance, but after talking about his four options to his insurance provider he decided to try his luck with the fields. So this past week, June 3, he found himself almost stuck in the mud on multiple occasions. Fortunately, he planted almost all of what he intended for corn and soybeans.
“We don’t have the luxury to wait for perfection,” Ackerman said. Ackerman made the decision to turn one corn field into a soybean field because he might fare better on the yields.
Ackerman isn’t the only farmer being affected by the weather. The vast majority of canning pumpkins are grown in Illinois, most of those around this area. Raghela Scavuzzo, Illinois Speciality Growers Association director, says that all pumpkin growers are behind.
“When you have natural disasters or bad weather it impacts the entire food system,” Scavuzzo said. “When it does impact, you are going to see it not only impact the farmer, the consumer, but everyone in the market. In this market, you don’t get a lot of money to begin with. This is make or break for buisnesses.”
Libby’s, the Nestle factory in Morton, gave the pumpkin festival more than 1,700 pounds of pumpkin last year and this year they still aim to hit the mark.
“Although it wasn’t ideal — since pumpkins tend to grow best in hot, dry weather — we were able to adjust our timeline to accommodate the weather,” Jim Ackerman, agricultural manager for Libby’s, said earlier this week. “We’re almost completely done with planting, which puts us right on schedule.”
Libby’s and the 58-year-old Morton farmer were able plant their fields, and now it is a waiting game to see what the climate will be later this season and how their crops fare with it.
John Ackerman said he and his wife, Eve, are "looking forward to normal weather, whatever that will be.”
Ackerman has been farming since 1983, and early on he faced challenges. Ackerman keeps detailed books on every planting season, and he remembers the drought of 1988 that devastated his crops. Now, it is the moisture in the air that has kept Ackerman and many other farmers from working.
“If I plant today, I don’t know if it would be ready for the [Morton] pumpkin festival,” Ackerman said before his June 7 planting. There are more than 160 variations of pumpkins that Ackerman plants and a chunk of them take 122 days to fully grow. The Morton Pumpkin Festival starts on Sept. 11, about a month sooner than that 122 days.
Ackerman says that he adapts to changes as they come, “The hard thing to consider on the farm is, we deal with the immediate weather.”
During the summer months, Ackerman is one-man show as he plants the fields himself, but come the fall, Ackerman Family Farms hires between 20 and 30 staff members. Beginning in late August, Ackerman Family Farms will open to the public.
A petting zoo, a corn maze and guided school tours become the daily schedule for Ackerman.
Courtney Eeten, program director for the Morton Chamber of Commerce, says that Ackerman Family Farms is a fixture of the Morton community.
“John and Eve Ackerman provide all of the pumpkins prior to festival each year for students to pick up to enter into our pumpkin decorating contest,” Eeten said. “The pumpkin decorating contest, sponsored by Ackerman Farms, is a favorite for local children and families. All Morton School District children can pick up a free pumpkin at Ackerman Farms and then decorate it to the theme.”