(Oct. 2, 11:30 a.m.) Grower-shippers who expected prices to be in the triple digits per bin of pumpkins this fall ended up being right. Many shippers are seeing prices at or above $110.

Although the quality of Halloween’s favorite vegetable is excellent this year, overall movement has been slower than normal for many and overall acreage is down.

“There is in fact a general shortage of pumpkins this year,” said Caren Epstein, director of communications for Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark. “Costs are up as opposed to years past. Wal-Mart will have enough pumpkins … others in the industry may have some supply issues.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Sept. 30 that 36-inch bins of 40 to 45 count howden type pumpkins from Virginia were mostly $90-$110. Shipments had advanced from fairly light the week before to moderate, with movement expected to increase. Prices were in the $80-90 range during last year’s late September/early October peak time.

Jason Turek, partner, said King Ferry, N.Y.-based Turek Farms was hurt from water damage on smaller varieties like ornamentals and pie pumpkins, and is already wrapping up those programs this year. New York State had its wettest July in history, Turek said. As a result, the pumpkins Turek Farms has left are larger than normal.

“We’ve got more 25-30 count, which aren’t a real desirable size for a chain store,” Turek said. “We’ll probably have big stuff left for the end of the season.”

Turek said prices are about where he thought they were going to be, in the $120-125 range.

“A lot of people are complaining about pumpkins not moving, but we’re doing OK,” Turek said.

Turek Farms started shipping by Labor Day, which was early — Sept. 1 — this year.

“October 1st used to be the kick-off of pumpkins, but people kept pushing and now we have to ship by Labor Day,” Turek said.

Ohio lacking N.Y.’s moisture

Elmore, Ohio-based Klickman Farms Produce started shipping its pumpkins Sept. 5.

“Every year seems to get a couple days earlier,” said Jim Klickman, owner.

Klickman said per-acre yields are down this year because of a six-to-eight-week dry spell late in the season. That same dry spell left the vegetables extremely clean, which could help overall yields bounce back.

“Quality is outstanding because of the dry weather,” Klickman said. “We’re cleaning up the field, cleaner than I’ve ever seen it.” Klickman said the lack of rain helped avoid puddles in the fields, which can damage pumpkins.

Size may be 5% below average because of the drought, Klickman said.

Klickman said his farms started out higher on pricing because there were not as many pumpkins in the market as there have been other years, but had to come off a little bit. He said he was in the $110 range Sept. 30.

Manteca, Calif.-based Van Groningen and Sons Inc. started shipping the first week of September to meet the early Labor Day, and has also seen sluggish movement.

“Sales are down a little because of warm weather,” said Danielle Cultrera, saleswoman. “It doesn’t feel like fall when it’s 93 degrees outside.”

Klickman agreed that warmer September weather in many parts of the country may have kept people out of the fall mode.

Cultrera said Van Groningen planted the same acreage as last year but noted yield and quality are better this year. She said pricing is higher than last year, and that it is a little higher than the $110 range.

Van Groningen supplies Wal-Mart stores in Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, and exports about 10% of its crop to Mexico, Costa Rica and China.

“I know shippers in the East are short,” Cultrera said. “We’ve shipped ornamentals to Illinois and Washington to help out their programs. But because freight is so expensive, it doesn’t always make sense to ship a load of pumpkins all the way to the East Coast.”

Movement good in Michigan

Joe Pirrone, president of Mike Pirrone Produce Inc., Capac, Mich., has no complaints about movement. Out of almost 1,000 acres, Pirrone Produce has only about 75 acres left to harvest, he said Sept. 30.

“Early movement was great,” Pirrone said. “There was a lull for about a week around the 20th of September, and lately it’s been moving again. We have a lot of orders booked.”

Pirrone said he expects to finish shipping pumpkins as early as Oct. 15.

“We’ve cleaned up exceptionally early this year,” Pirrone said.

Pirrone said size is up, shifting from 45 counts to mostly 35 and 40 counts because of great growing conditions.

“Our Illinois deal got a little bit stressed when Chicago got 14 inches of rain that one weekend (mid-September),” Pirrone said. “We didn’t get 14 inches, but we got a lot.”

Pirrone Produce set prices in the $105-110 range at the beginning of the season, and hasn’t had to budge, Pirrone said.

Pirrone said production should be normal this year, despite losing a few growers to grains.

“We had a few growers who thought it was more profitable to grow grains, but other growers took over and made up that acreage.”

Pirrone Produce grows in Illinois, Michigan, New York state and Ohio and ships as far west as Denver and south to Florida and Texas.

“We don’t go to the East Coast because of freight and they have a lot of local pumpkins out there,” Pirrone said.

Per-bin pumpkin prices hit triple digits
Elmore, Ohio-based Klickman Farms Produce started shipping its pumpkins Sept. 5. Owner Jim Klickman says per-acre yields are down this year because of a six-to-eight-week dry spell late in the season. That same dry spell left the vegetables extremely clean, which could help overall yields bounce back. “Quality is outstanding because of the dry weather,” Klickman says.

Courtesy Klickman Farms Produce