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Pumpkins in Paradise

Published on Friday, November 10, 2017

When most Midwesterners think about Hawaiian agriculture, pineapples and coconut trees leaning out over calm, blue water are about all that comes to mind. Many would be surprised to know that there are corn breeding facilities in Hawaii. During the six months of the year that corn doesn’t grow in the Midwest, the Beck’s breeding team doesn’t just sit idle. Every day, progress is made to advance new genetics and to improve seed for our farmers. For years, Beck’s used winter nurseries in Chile and Mexico to grow corn in the North American off-season until 2016, when there was an opportunity to invest in U.S. soil where corn can grow year round. Beck’s just celebrated one full year and three corn crops at our new Beck’s Hawaii Facility in the town of Kekaha on the island of Kauai. Last winter, when most folks in Indiana were shoveling their driveways, Beck’s employees made over a million hand pollinations in the corn breeding nurseries. Each pollination is a new chance to create an inbred line that could be a part of the next hot hybrid.

This year, as a way to give back to the community of Kekaha on the island of Kauai, the 11 full-time employees at the Kekaha facility planted about an acre of the farm in pumpkins to be given away. Sarah Thompson, Beck’s Breeding Projects Coordinator, is in her third year of supporting the Family and Friends of Agriculture organization on the island and has been influential in planning and organizing the Kauai Harvest Festival.

 


Beck’s Employee, Sarah Thompson pictured with some of the pumpkins that were donated to the Kauai Harvest Festival.
 

The festival features music, dancing, games and most importantly, brings the community together to celebrate all of the agriculture on the island. Other farms on the island also grew pumpkins for the effort and together they were able to squash last year’s record crop by giving away over 6,000 pumpkins. 2,000 were given away at the Harvest Festival and the rest were delivered to schools, senior centers, and charities across the island in the week leading up to Halloween.

 


Beck’s Employee Kaimana Mainaaupo carved a throwback logo into a pumpkin grown on the Beck’s Hybrids farm on Kauai, Hawaii.
 

Sarah had this to say about the festival, “The Harvest Festival has been a unique event from the inception. Every fall during the sugar cane days, the plantations would have a gathering for the whole community to celebrate the cane harvest. Our idea was to create a free, family event in the spirit of the old harvest celebrations, highlighting current agriculture on the island, while also supporting local charities. All of the rides, water slides, games, and other entertainment were covered by donations. All of the vendors at the event benefitted local charities.” Beck’s was also a sponsor of the festival, beyond donating the pumpkins.

 


One acre of pumpkins was grown on the Beck’s farm in Kekaha, HI. The pumpkins were given to members of the community.
 

Growing pumpkins on the island can be a challenge due to abundant pests and the way that the environment changes how quickly the gourds mature.

Sarah says this about pumpkin production, “Pumpkins are a challenging crop on Kauai due to all of the pests and the unpredictability of the growth rate of different varieties. A 95-day variety can mature in 75 days here, but the reduction isn’t consistent across all varieties, which can be nerve-racking when you have only planned a few days of leeway before the Festival and you’re not sure how the new varieties will perform.” A strategy that helped this year was to transplant instead of planting the seed directly in the field – this helped to get a head start on weed control. Christian Schlosser, Breeding Projects Associate II, spent his very first day on the job with Beck’s planting pumpkins, along with his wife and their children.

“It’s incredibly rewarding to help supply Kauai with thousands of locally-grown, free pumpkins to celebrate the fall season. Our employees enjoy learning about a new crop and the timing helps too - during August and September we are in a fallow period for corn on Kauai’s West side to help reduce corn pest populations, so we have the time, land, and manpower to grow pumpkins before we gear up for our winter corn season.” Sarah Thompson, Breeding Projects Coordinator

 


Pumpkins grown on the Beck’s farm in Kekaha, Hawaii on the island of Kauai were donated to the local community through the local organization Family and Friends of Agriculture.
 

This year, Beck’s harvested about 1,200 pumpkins to be given away as a part of the Kauai Harvest Festival. Last year, they raised just one variety of pumpkin, and this year that grew to eight: Charisma, Blaze, Knuckle Head, Kakai, Racer Plus, Chucky, Cargo, and Blue Hubbard Squash. Next year, she would like to try her hand at growing giant pumpkins - and she’d appreciate advice if anyone has experience! White pumpkins have been particularly popular, too, so those may be included in next year’s plan.

 


Beck’s Agronomy Technician, Kaimana Mainaaupo, and his two children picking out the perfect pumpkins to carve at their school, Ke Kula Niihau O Kekaha. Beck’s donated 150 pumpkins to three local schools.
 

At the end of the day, whether you are a farmer in the Midwest looking to find the best in seed for your farm, or a schoolkid in Hawaii hoping to win the pumpkin carving contest, everybody likes to have choices.

 

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Samantha Miller
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Samantha Miller

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