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It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Pumpkins have come to symbolize autumn. They are found nearly everywhere—as carved out, lit-up faces dotting porches on Halloween night, at pumpkin patches, festivals and competitions supporting agri-tourism, and in kitchens across America steeped in the smell of the sweet fruit and spices for Thanksgiving dinner. So, understandably, the great use of pumpkins around this time of year, coupled with the recent drought, have left many people worried about the season’s hottest commodity.

Fortunately, experts say that pumpkin carving, pie baking and other pumpkin-centric activities this fall will not be affected by the drought that has hurt many other crops. As long as pumpkins receive precipitation at the right time, they are one of the few crops that does fairly well in drought conditions. Pumpkin rinds are susceptible to diseases that come from too much water, so, the lack of precipitation hasn’t been bad for this year’s pumpkins. In fact, experts say that this harvest is just as good as last year’s—if not better.

Further, an increase in the total number of pumpkin acres planted this spring is paying off.  Overall, there are about 48,000 acres of pumpkins planted in the U.S. most years with even more on the ground this year.

While pumpkin quantity is looking good, so is the quality. The top pumpkin-producing states are reporting that this year’s crop is in good shape. Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, New York and California all claim that the overall ornamental pumpkin crop, which is used primarily for jack-o-lanterns, is in much better shape than a year ago, especially for farmers with irrigation systems in place. Disease is low and farmers are expecting a normal yield. Some farmers even claim this year’s pumpkins are the best ever.

Bakers, too, can rejoice. Illinois, where the most pumpkins are grown for pie filling (nearly 90 percent of U.S. processing pumpkins are grown in the state) reports that the crop is on track.  And local pumpkin processors say the crop is in excellent condition.

And that’s not only great for consumers, it’s good for the agriculture industry. On average, total U.S. pumpkin production in major producing states has a farm-gate value of around $118 million. But, the orange orbs are worth a lot more past the farm gate. The final retail value is estimated to be $850 million. The pumpkin is an example of the relatively small share farmers receive of the retail dollar. Around 14 percent of the total pumpkin price goes to farmers, while the remaining 86 percent goes toward processing, transportation and marketing. On average, a farmer receives $11.26 per every 100 pounds of pumpkins he or she produces.   

The pumpkin represents fall’s bounty. It is nutritious, yet tasty, provides hours of decorating fun and continues to lure city folk to u-pick farms and farmers’ markets across the country.

It really is the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

(Tracy Taylor Grondine is director of media relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation.)

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