If you haven’t bought your Halloween pumpkins yet, it might be time to get a move on. Fewer of the carved treats are likely to be out and about this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which forecasts a down year for pumpkins. Seems scorching weather and lack of rain this season have wiped out crops across the eastern part of the country.
It’s the second year for a decrease in pumpkin production of the $100 million-a-year industry.
Steve Bogash, a horticulture educator at Pennsylvania State University, works with about 1,600 state vegetable growers.
“If you’ve got to have pumpkins for your 5-year-olds, I certainly would not wait a long time to get them,” he says.
Pennsylvania is the nation’s second-largest producer of the orange fruit. Growers there produced a great early crop, Bogash says, while the midseason harvest was a bust and the late-season crop is still in question. The lack of rain in July and August appears to be the culprit.
Standing in his field, Bob Gritt, a farmer in Buffalo, West Virginia, ponders the lack of size and color of his pumpkin crop.
“The color’s not real good on them, and there’s not very many big ones in there,” he says.
Some West Virginia farmers didn’t have a crop at all.
The West Virginia Pumpkin Festival had to import pumpkins for its four-day event in Milton. The festival draws about 40,000 visitors to the area each year.
“I think that anywhere that anybody had irrigation, they got a lot of pumpkins,” says Boyd Meadows, the owner of Milton’s Halfway Markets. “Anybody that did it just planting the pumpkins and depending on Mother Nature to give them water, got a very, very poor crop, if any.”
Meadows estimates that pumpkin production was down at least two-thirds in West Virginia, Kentucky and parts of Ohio. On the other hand, Indiana and northern Ohio have great crops, Meadows says, mainly due to the adequate rainfall. Ohio is the nation’s top producer of pumpkins.
The drought also hurt growers in western New York and Michigan. Michigan State University extension educator Ron Goldy estimates the northern part of his state lost as much as half of its crop because of the hot, dry weather. Conversely, southern Michigan received too much rain, and most of the pumpkins there rotted in the fields. Goldy says parts of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio also received too much rain.
Sarah Frey grows pumpkins on 3,000 acres in southern Illinois, and when asked what happened, she says, “Thirty percent loss, at least. Hot, dry weather, drought. It was all those days that we had that were 105 degrees.”
Hot weather also forced producers to harvest early, and Frey persuaded the big retailers she supplies to take early delivery.
Frey did have one bright spot. Her miniature heirloom pumpkins did well. “They had a much better tolerance,” she says.
At least producers are getting a few more cents per pound for their product. Meadows says he’s paying 15 cents a pound, up from the typical price of 10 to 12 cents. Consumers will see an increase as well, buying pumpkins for 35 to 39 cents a pound, above the usual 29 cents a pound.
“The public is paying more per pound for it, but they’re getting less,” says Meadows. “There’s no moisture in them.”
– information from the Associated Press