How worried should Charlie Brown be? Is there any truth to what some are calling the Great Pumpkin Shortage?
After Hurricane Irene pummeled and soaked the Northeast, the media began reporting that damage to the pumpkin crop portended a general shortage of pumpkins for the Halloween season and beyond. Heavy rains in the spring caused some farmers to plant later than usual, and some areas experienced hot, dry weather during the summer months, further fueling concerns about this year’s harvest.
The fact is that it’s not unusual for some areas to produce a less-than-stellar pumpkin crop, influenced by unfavorable weather conditions. But pumpkins are grown in nearly every state, so the supply is widely disbursed (the top five producing states as of last year are Illinois, California, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania). And conditions vary across the country.
While USDA does not survey the pumpkin crop until the end of the year, overall it appears that the 2011 pumpkin season will feature variable quality and higher wholesale and retail prices. In areas affected by excessive rain or heat, the supply of pumpkins for jack-o’-lanterns and other ornamental use will likely be reduced. Wholesalers, retailers, and organizers of fall festivals in those areas may need to procure pumpkins from nearby states or regions where the crop is more plentiful. This, by the way, is by no means unusual in the pumpkin market.
Of course, pumpkins are heavy, so additional transportation costs combined with overall shorter supplies are likely to result in higher prices. Wholesale prices for pumpkins not sold under previously arranged contracts are higher than last year. We’re seeing higher prices for jack-o’-lantern type pumpkins and smaller pie-type pumpkins – also popular at fall festivals – and for the miniature ornamental varieties.
Ornamental and home processing use accounts for about three-fourths of the U.S. pumpkin crop, with the other fourth used for commercial processing (largely canning). Pumpkin use for all purposes has been trending upward – reaching an estimated 1.4 billion pounds in 2010, an average of 4.6 pounds per person. The popularity of urban pick-your-own pumpkin patches, fall festivals, and ornamental use in homes and businesses have together helped maintain demand over the past two decades.
As in previous years, areas of the country where the pumpkin crop comes up short can turn to areas of abundance to satisfy demand. In any case, a “great” pumpkin will undoubtedly be found on the stoop of all who want one.