Pumpkins are big business in Floyd County, Texas, putting as much as $2 million into the local economy.
That's a fair sized contribution from an 800 to 900 acre crop.
“Acreage is down from where it was about 10 years ago,” says J.D. Ragland, Floyd County Extension agent. “Growers planted as many as 2,000 acres at one time but high production costs, especially labor, convinced farmers to cut back. “We're down from around 12 to 8 or 9 pumpkin producers, but they concentrate production on their better fields where they expect the highest yields. They're trying to get more production per acre on fewer acres.”
Ragland says almost everything involved in pumpkin production, except planting, requires manual labor. “That's a big expense.”
So is water. Pumpkins require from 23 inches to 24 inches of moisture to produce acceptable yields. “And we have a short window to get water,” he says.
“We typically plant pumpkins in early June and begin harvest around the second week of September. It's a short but intense growing season.”
He says county producers “were blessed with good rainfall this summer. We still had to irrigate but growers cut out maybe one or two applications.”
Disease control also adds to costs. Ragland says most growers stay on a spray schedule, as close as every ten days, to control powdery mildew and other diseases. “We get some odd stuff on pumpkins occasionally,” he says. “We may need a mixture of several fungicides.”
Weeds have been particularly troublesome this summer. Unusually moist conditions and a limited number of herbicides make weed management a challenge. “We don't have Roundup Ready pumpkins,” Ragland says. Growers usually hoe to control weeds and they have to get in early, before vines get heavy and runners develop.
“We occasionally use hoe hands in mid-season but they have to be careful with vines and runners.”
Ragland says pumpkin farmers usually apply a yellow herbicide to limit weed emergence. “Still, with the rainfall we had this year, weeds have been a problem.”
Pigweed tops the list. “We also have morning glory, Russian thistle and others. We get the same weeds in pumpkins cotton farmers fight.”
Even with the challenges, Ragland says yields will be up slightly this year. “We normally average 20,000 pounds per acre,” he says. “We'll get about 25,000 pounds this year.” He says good moisture and cooler temperatures favor pumpkin growth.
Prices are up, too. They won't reach the peak, about 12 cents a pound, but they'll be close, at 10 cents. Ragland says prices sometimes dip as low as 5 cents or 6 cents a pound. “At 10 cents we're close to our all-time high and that's a good price. It's always a matter of supply and demand.”
Most of Floyd County's pumpkin crop goes to metropolitan areas like Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, and Oklahoma City. Grocery store chains take most of the crop. “We also have a few producers who sell from roadside stands,” Ragland says.
Floyd County growers produce four types of pumpkins: the miniatures used mainly for table decorations; pie pumpkins, 2 to 5 pounds each; jack-o-lantern pumpkins, 7 to 12 pounds each; and large or Big Mack, 100 to 300 pound pumpkins, used for yard decorations.
“Jack-o-lantern pumpkins account for most of our crop,” Ragland says.
Floyd County pumpkin producers started picking the second week of September and will finish by the last of October. “We'll continue to market until Thanksgiving.”
Some growers contract the crop but Ragland says they never know yield potential because of weather. “Many have long-standing relationships with grocery chains.”
Floyd County is the state's top pumpkin producer and Ragland says it's “a unique crop that has been good for the county.”