Pumpkin patches in the Brazos Valley are popular locations for fall photo shoots, family hangouts and social outings. But according to a recent Texas A&M AgriLife report, some Texas pumpkin growers are facing below-average harvests due to early-season rains and extreme heat and drought in the summer.
A Caldwell-area producer, though, said his farms’ yields have been strong.
Dan Tucker, who owns and operates Yellow Prairie Farms near Caldwell, said that this is his sixth year growing and harvesting pumpkins. He said his operation sells pumpkins to a variety of locations, including to Farm Patch in Bryan.
“We have had a great pumpkin yield every year, and our yields go up every year,” Tucker said. “Pumpkins are a great money maker because farms are going away from them since there’s no labor. Every year we’ve made more money than the prior year, because there’s more and more of a shortage of them.”
“We usually average about 22,000 pounds of pumpkin per acre, but this year, we averaged 36,000 pounds of pumpkin per acre,” Tucker added.
Mark Scarmardo, owner of the Farm Patch, said Thursday that their pumpkins come from Tucker’s farm — and from places in west Texas, New Mexico, Kansas and Illinois. The Farm Patch has a variety of pumpkin options for purchase, with a full shipment of pumpkins numbering in the thousands.
“We buy pumpkins from all over the United States,” Scarmardo said at his Bryan facility, where children played in a corn pit and a group of parents chatted. “You try to buy from the same growers every time, but sometimes one area may have a lot of rain, so the quality’s not as good, so then we go to a different area. Weather conditions play a big role.”
Harvest typically begins in late August so producers can meet orders. Tucker said that the shelf life of pumpkins is roughly 60-90 days when outside, with some exceptions.
Scarmardo, who started the Farm Patch fruit and vegetable stand in 1974, also gave commentary on what he described as shifting seasonal norms.
“Fall is a lot bigger than it used to be,” he said. “It used to be that people wanted to put out one pumpkin before Halloween, and now people want to put out several pumpkins, a bale of hay, corn stalks, a mum and more. It’s more of a festive thing than it used to be, and people want to decorate more fully.”
Aggie Habitat also has a pumpkin patch, located in College Station. Andrew Macias, a senior at A&M who serves as Aggie Habitat’s director of construction, said Wednesday that they have sold about 1,600 pumpkins so far, with volume expected to rise as Halloween approaches.
Macias said that Aggie Habitat gets pumpkins from a grower in New Mexico, and that much of the proceeds go toward home-building in the area.
“They get trucked here, usually three times during the month of October,” he said.
Macias added that a full shipment for them is about 2,500 pumpkins, and patch patrons include students and area residents of all ages.
AgriLife Extension’s Crop and Weather Report included an interview with producer Jason Pyle of Pumpkin Pyle in Floydada, which is northeast of Lubbock.
Pyle told AgriLife that he estimated his yields are 30% to 40% below average. He said his vines lost much of their first fruit sets due to extreme heat.
“The quality is good, but the numbers just aren’t where they usually are,” he said.
Pyle said he suspects growers around the country had a difficult year as well.
“I don’t know if it was the hurricanes on the East Coast, but we are getting orders from places we typically don’t supply,” he said. “We typically serve Oklahoma City and Dallas markets, but we’ve been getting calls from all over the place. Something is going on.”
Tucker praised the pumpkin industry and said he is glad to be part of it.
“I think it’s a great industry to be in, like any part of agriculture,” Tucker said. “Pumpkins are a wonderful — and fairly simple — commodity to grow. The market is strong for pumpkins and always has been, and I think it will continue to be strong for pumpkins.”