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Pumpkin Worries? Probably Not

September 15, 2011

I had heard some rumors that 2011 was going to be a rough year for the pumpkin crop, similar to what happened in 2009. Thinking that all of the wet weather and flooding in the Northeast, coupled with some hot weather in the Midwest,  was going to doom us to another season devoid of pumpkin pie and jack-o-lanterns, I scoured the news and in the internet to find some scientific confirmation.

But, sources on the internet weren’t giving me enough information to either confirm or deny this rumor, so I decided to go right to the source – Dr. Stephen Reiners, Associate Professor of Horticultural Sciences in the Cornell University College of Agriculture & Life Sciences (and co-team leader for the Western NY Cornell Cooperative Extension Vegetable Team and the Capital District Vegetable and Small Fruit Program).

I sent Dr. Reiners a few of my questions, and he was gracious enough to send me back his answers right away. Turns out, pumpkins are his favorite crop!

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Is NYS a major pumpkin-growing state? What is the estimated yearly crop yield?

New York is a big producer of pumpkins. We grew 7100 acres of pumpkins in 2010, which puts us behind Ohio (7300 acres), Michigan (7400 acres) and Illinois (15,400 acres). We can sort of throw the Illinois numbers out as 90% of their crop is actually for processing and they include squash in their numbers. So in terms of Halloween type pumpkins we usually are in the top three with Michigan and Ohio. Interesting, because most of our pumpkins are grown for ornamentals, the value of our pumpkin crop is number 1 in the country at $35.1 million. California is second in value ($18.8 million) with 6200 acres. 

In terms of numbers and weights, we probably produce more than 10 million pumpkins in the state weighing between 50 and 100 million pounds!

Are pumpkins grown in NYS grown primarily for consumption, or for decorations?

I would say about 90-95% is decorative in New York. But most growers include some pie pumpkins and those that want to use pumpkins for cooking should look for those. There is a big difference between Jack-O-Lantern types and pie pumpkins. The Jack-O-Lantern types are bred for size, disease resistance, vine type, skin thickness, handle size, etc. but certainly not for eating. Pie pumpkins have been selected for a lack of strings, flavor, etc.

Will the 2011 pumpkin crop be affected adversely by flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene and the subsequent flooding?

Unfortunately yes. Flooded fields are leading to many diseased pumpkins that are rotting. There could be shortages in some places this year so don’t wait too long to get one.

Which pumpkin-growing areas of NYS were affected the most?

Eastern NY was hit bad, especially the area right around you (the area surrounding Albany). As you get west of Syracuse and north of Ithaca, the rains were much less and losses are minimal.

2010 saw a canned pumpkin shortage. Do you predict a pumpkin shortage for this year? For canned or ornamental pumpkins, or both?

Things should be okay this year. Apparently about 95% of all the canned pumpkin comes out of a small area in Illinois (packed by Libby’s along with some other labels). They had tough conditions in 2008 and 2009 which caused problems in 2009 and 2010. Last year’s harvest was good so we shouldn’t see any shortages as inventories are very high. Only thing that could cause it would be if people go out and buy a lot more than they could ever use, thinking there may be a shortage again.

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So, there you go. Go get your pumpkins now, so you don’t miss out.  And don’t stockpile canned pumpkin – save some for the rest of us. Thanks, Dr. Reiners!

And, speaking of pumpkin, I stopped into my local Starbucks yesterday, to try the mania-inspiring Pumpkin Spice Latte. My review: eh. I don’t understand all the hullabaloo. The drink definitely contained autumn spices and surprisingly, the flavor of pumpkin (I only expected the spice), but it was otherwise an unremarkable Starbucks espresso drink. The only thing that startled me was the cost – $4.91 for a grande. I don’t think I’ll be buying another one.

Some fun pumpkin facts:

  • Most pumpkins are grown for processing, not ornamental sales.
  • Pumpkin flowers are edible.
  • Pumpkins are a fruit.
  • Pumpkins are 90 percent water.
  • Around 90 to 95 percent of the processed pumpkins in the United States are grown in Illinois.
  • Pumpkins contain potassium and Vitamin A.
  • The name pumpkin originated from “pepon” – the Greek word for “large melon.”
  • Eighty percent of the pumpkin supply in the U.S. is available in October.
  • Pumpkins once were recommended for removing freckles and curing snake bites. Today, they aren’t considered remedies to either.
  • Pumpkins range in size from less than a pound to more than 1,000 pounds. The largest pumpkin ever grown weighed 1,140 pounds.
  • The largest pumpkin pie ever made was more than 5 feet in diameter and weighed more than 350 pounds. It used 80 pounds of cooked pumpkin, 36 pounds of sugar, 12 dozen eggs and took six hours to bake.
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3 Comments leave one →
  1. September 15, 2011 10:53 am

    I am so psyched about pumpkin pie season! I even have a special way of opening those pie pumpkins. Great post, love the research.

    • September 15, 2011 11:43 am

      I think I need to go buy a hacksaw. And…I need those pumpkin chocolate chip muffins.

  2. September 16, 2011 12:43 pm

    Why is it that all the good vegetables are fruits?
    Dammit.
    And then the other ones are grains.
    Damn and blast.

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