Texas pumpkin growers faced myriad challenges to produce average yields, but demand for the fall cooking and decorative staple remains high, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.
Most of the state’s few thousand acres of pumpkins are grown in Floyd County around Floydada, a small agricultural town northeast of Lubbock.
Pumpkins represent a small amount of acreage when it comes to crop production, but Floydada is famous for its pumpkins. Illinois produces around 90% of the nation’s crop, but a handful of growers around the Texas town continue to produce high-demand heirloom and jack-o’-lantern standard varieties.
Their harvest is sold at wholesale and shipped throughout Texas, Oklahoma and as far east as Mississippi.
Mark Carroll, AgriLife Extension agriculture agent, Floyd County, said yields and quality were average despite above-average soil moisture conditions.
There was significant rainfall throughout the summer starting in late-May, Carroll said. While producers avoided major delays to their planting or field management routines, he said the above-average moisture levels led to more problems with fungus than normal. Pumpkin producers sprayed fields one to two times more than a typical season to protect their crop.
September has been extremely dry, but Carroll said all pumpkins are grown under some form of irrigation. Producers began harvesting a few weeks ago and will continue shipping pumpkins for the next few weeks.
Growers in Floyd County were averaging around 30,000 pounds per acre with good quality aside from early planted jack-o’-lantern varieties that matured with soft outer shells.
Last year, yields were down about 30% due to drought, Carroll said. This year, production was average, but demand is strong.
Boom, or bust for pumpkin growers
A few producers had weather-related difficulties, Carroll said. One Floydada producer lost two-thirds of the crop to a hailstorm, while another in nearby Knox County dealt with heavy rains, delays and difficult field conditions.
Jerry Coplen, AgriLife Extension agent, Knox County, said the pumpkin producer experienced a variety of adversities including planting delays, weeds and above-normal disease and pest pressure. Some of the grower’s acres produced exceptionally well — around 40,000 pounds per acre — while others failed completely or were damaged beyond salvaging.
Out-of-control weeds followed delays and muddy planting conditions as fields were too wet to manage, he said, and moisture levels led to above-normal fungicide treatments.
Armyworms hit his fields around Labor Day and devastated 20-30 acres of his farm, Coplen said.
“We experienced a lot of setbacks between the rain and weeds and armyworms,” he said. “From an acres-to-pounds standpoint, we’re looking at breaking even despite some acres doing very well.”
Higher production costs
Grower Jason Pyle with Pumpkin Pyle, Floydada, said it was an above-average year for difficulties and expenses. Those expense increases will mean slightly higher prices for consumers on some pumpkin varieties.
Prices for the bins and pallets needed to hold and ship pumpkins were significantly higher and availability was limited. Input costs from fertilizer to pesticides were also up, he said.
Labor was also an issue. Migrant harvest crews with H-2A work visas he typically hires were not allowed into the country, and finding people to harvest, clean and stack pumpkins has been his biggest challenge this season.
“Harvest is highly dependent on manual labor, and the 50 to 70 guys I typically hire were unable to get here,” he said. “It’s been a challenging year, but we should be wrapping up in the next 10 days.”