At one point this spring, New York grower Jason Turek wasn’t sure if he’d have enough labor to plant any pumpkins. With that resolved, he worried that with so many people out of work, nobody would buy them. Then government stimulus money kicked in, and he began to relax.
“It seems like people are not going on vacation, they’re staying home and spending more on landscaping and cooking,” said Turek, partner in King Ferry, N.Y.-based Turek Farms, which sells hundreds of loads of traditional orange jack-o-lanterns, 35 count and 50 to 60 count, to retailers in the Northeast.
“If we follow the trends in the nursery business, which was up dramatically, all indications are it’s going to be a decent fall,” he said.
“We’ve tried to stick to our normal plan based on what sold last year and stay in our comfort zone, not knowing how the year’s going to play out.”
After an extremely hot, dry July, Turek was waiting for his fruit to size up.
“We should be on time,” he said, “with the majority of pumpkins coming off the last 10 days in September and the first 20 days of October.”
He also likes to keep some pumpkins around for Thanksgiving celebrations.
At Jackson Farming Co., based in Autryville, N.C., the crop “is coming along fine,” said vice president operations Matt Solana, who expects his first harvest of carving pumpkins in mid-September.
“We’ll get a few loads out to retailers who set up their produce departments up right after Labor Day,” Solana said.
His peak shipping period is Oct. 1-15, with retail promotions running until Oct. 30.
As for COVID-19, “We’re all good here on the farm,” he said, “taking the suggested precautions and working with our teams to stay safe.”
Washington is on track for a bountiful crop of pumpkins and ornamental gourds, said Michele Youngquist, president of Mount Vernon-based Bay Baby Produce, which grows over 550 acres of pumpkins in the Skagit Valley, including 15 pumpkin varieties from pie to ornamental and three varieties of long-stemmed, hard-shelled pumpkins for decoration.
“Early spring and summer were on the cooler side,” said Youngquist, who’s built an empire with her mini Pumpkin Patch Pals, “but we got good heat in July so everything is on schedule.”
Bay Baby expects to start harvesting Aug. 10 and continue until Oct. 15, with product shipping from the first of September until Oct. 25, or until supply runs out, she said. Her designs are shipped across North America and down to Mexico, with some going to Japan and Taiwan.
“It’s definitely a growing category,” she said. “We offer a great low-cost, feel-good item that’s especially welcome this year.”
At pumpkin giant Frey Farms, based in Keenes, Ill., vice president John Frey said his crop looks good so far.
While there wasn’t enough rain during planting, Frey said by the end of July he was wishing the intermittent rain would stop.
“By the last week of August and first week of September we start picking, stocking up and getting our inventory built up,” he said, “because right after Labor Day stores want to set their fall displays.”
Sales of Frey’s ornamentals, from mesh bags of white, orange and striped mini pumpkins to gourds and decorative corn, start ramping up the second and third week of September, he said.
“You’ll see some ‘jack’ sales in September,” he said, “but the majority of jack-type pumpkins have the highest demand in October.”
While Turek Farms has decided to concentrate on the classic orange pumpkin, Frey is known for its heirlooms, from the ribbed, blue-gray jarrahdale, a customer favorite, to warty and fairytale varieties.
Mike Mauti, managing partner of Execulytics Consulting in Milton, Ontario, said these new varieties, which command a premium price, have gained ground every year for the past decade, making the ornamental category more profitable for retailers.
Turek said the year’s success also depends on dodging hurricanes, and the weather needs to cool down to start people thinking about fall.
“Until we get them picked it’s hard to tell how the season will go,” he said, “but every kid who wants to carve a pumpkin will have one.”