Pumpkin growers across the U.S. have dealt with everything from invasive fungus to extreme weather to supply chain issues leading up to Halloween this year.
John Hamby, co-owner of Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers Inc., said finding trucking capacity has been a huge struggle this season.
“We started shipping around the 15th of September. The whole season, we’ve been 40 to 50 loads behind schedule because the trucks just weren’t out there,” Hamby told FreightWaves.
Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers Inc. is based in Greensboro, North Carolina, and operates a pumpkin farm in Farmington, New Mexico.
The company ships millions of pumpkins every year to organizations in more than 40 states, including churches and other nonprofits. Pumpkin Patch Fundraisers was founded by Hamby’s parents, Richard and Janice.
“We do face unique challenges in that we ship from a kind of a remote area where there’s not a lot of freight nearby. We’re in a situation where trucks are deadheading a long distance,” Hamby said.
He said trucks often have to deadhead from Phoenix or Albuquerque, New Mexico, to pick up loads at the pumpkin patch in Farmington.
This year’s lack of trucking capacity, coupled with higher rates, caused some delays in getting shipments out.
“It has been extremely challenging; it’s definitely hurt us this year. We’re trying to ship 50 or 60 loads a day out of a remote area so getting that many trucks here, we’re competing with other growers and whoever else is shipping out of Mexico,” Hamby said.
He said there has also been a critical shortage of boxes and pallets.
“It’s been challenging to source pallets and cardboard. Cardboard boxes have been very, very difficult,” Hamby said.
He and his organization are not alone. Weather conditions, invasive fungus and supply chain issues have also affected growers in Texas and Illinois.
“We had more rainfall than we normally do over the summer. That causes fungus to be prolific and grow more,” Mark Carroll, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources in Floyd County, Texas, told FreightWaves.
“Pumpkin growers [in Floyd County] had to spray over fungus more this summer because of the rainfall. Some pumpkin producers had to spray fungicide twice. It was a major problem, but they were able to keep it under control with fungicides.”
In Texas, most of the few thousand acres of pumpkins are grown in Floyd County near Lubbock, as well as in Knox County, about 80 miles east.
Carroll said the fungicide did not have a huge effect on pumpkin crops this season, but one Floyd County producer lost two-thirds of this year’s crop to a hailstorm, while another in Knox County dealt with delays and other setbacks over the summer.
“We haven’t had any trucking issues in Floyd County. There are some producers over in Knox County, they’ve had some problems getting trucks, filling orders to do things. In Floyd County we have several trucking companies that are based here,” Carroll said.
The top six pumpkin-producing states last year were Illinois, California, Indiana, Michigan, Texas and Virginia, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported. Together, these states harvested more than a billion pounds of pumpkins last year.
In Illinois, pumpkin growers also faced an unusual amount of heavy rain over the summer, which caused fungus to spread.
University of Illinois crop science expert Mohammad Babadoost told TV station KSDK that heavy rains across the state caused fungus to spread across pumpkin crops.
“This is a really nasty pathogen. It’s a fungus. It’s the good old fungus that comes with rain,” Babadoost said.
Hamby said there are ongoing pumpkin shortages across the country.
“I have heard of pumpkin shortages in the Northeast, due to a crop problem. The rest of the country I think had an OK crop, but there’s a shortage in the stores just exclusively because there’s problems getting the trucks to ship the pumpkins,” Hamby said.
“I am happy to say we’re caught up with our schedule now. Despite some late deliveries, we are going to get our product out.”
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