America’s favorite gourd takes the spotlight this week, mostly carved into Jack O’ Lantern form. Pumpkins make a return at Thanksgiving in spicy pies and perhaps a casserole.
For America’s farmers, pumpkin production often serves as a sideline for local sales during the Halloween season, while large-scale commercial production in some areas supplies all that holiday pie filling. In 2016, farmers in the top 16 pumpkin-producing States harvested 1.1 billion pounds of pumpkins, according to a USDA report.
Illinois by far leads the nation in production of pumpkins for food, and overall. In fact, Illinois regularly grows about six times the average of the next eight leading pumpkin states. Food processing accounts for almost 80% of the pumpkins grown in Illinois, again, far more than any other state. Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and California grow pumpkins for processing, but each at less than 10% of their total production. Everywhere else, farmers grow pumpkins primarily for fresh sales and decorative use.
As with other crops, pumpkin yields vary depending on location, management systems and seasonal conditions. According to the USDA, growers in Illinois, California, Texas, and North Carolina see average yields around 30,000 pounds per acre, while other reported states average about 15,000 pounds per acre.
You might recall the great pumpkin scare of 2015, when rumors of shortages generated some panic buying of processed pumpkin for the holidays. Poor weather that year cut Illinois production by more than 50% compared to average years. Production rebounded in 2016, with a 45% year-to-year increase driven largely by Illinois production bouncing back to near normal.
Initial reports suggest a good crop in most areas this year, although USDA notes some cold and wet weather at harvest likely hurt crops in New York and Pennsylvania. Nationally, pumpkin prices have dropped slightly from last year, with the average price in the third week of October listed at $3.89 per pumpkin, compared with $3.95 a year earlier.
While per-capita use of fresh pumpkin averages just 4.5 pounds, USDA notes that consumer interest in fresh, local pumpkin varieties for food use shows signs of growth, possibly offering opportunities for growers marketing through farmers’ markets or other local retail venues.
Read more on pumpkin trends from USDA.