Texas Field Reports: Pumpkin Growers Near End to Challenging Season

    Two large, orange pumpkins grow on the vine in the foreground, with others visible in the background. Photo: Kevin Hudson, Mississippi State University

    Texas pumpkin growers faced myriad challenges to produce average yields, but demand for the fall cooking and decorative staple remains high, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.

    Most of the state’s few thousand acres of pumpkins are grown in Floyd County around Floydada, a small agricultural town northeast of Lubbock.

    Pumpkins represent a small amount of acreage when it comes to crop production, but Floydada is famous for its pumpkins. Illinois produces around 90% of the nation’s crop, but a handful of growers around the Texas town continues to produce high-demand heirloom and jack-o’-lantern standard varieties.

    Their harvest is sold at wholesale and shipped throughout Texas, Oklahoma and as far east as Mississippi.

    Mark Carroll, AgriLife Extension agriculture agent, Floyd County, said yields and quality were average despite above-average soil moisture conditions.

    There was significant rainfall throughout the summer starting in late-May, Carroll said. While producers avoided major delays to their planting or field management routines, he said the above-average moisture levels led to more problems with fungus than normal. Pumpkin producers sprayed fields one to two times more than a typical season to protect their crop.

    September has been extremely dry, but Carroll said all pumpkins are grown under some form of irrigation. Producers began harvesting a few weeks ago and will continue shipping pumpkins for the next few weeks.

    Growers in Floyd County were averaging around 30,000 pounds per acre with good quality aside from early planted jack-o’-lantern varieties that matured with soft outer shells.

    Last year, yields were down about 30% due to drought, Carroll said. This year, production was average, but demand is strong.

    Boom, or bust for pumpkin growers

    A few producers had weather-related difficulties, Carroll said. One Floydada producer lost two-thirds of the crop to a hailstorm, while another in nearby Knox County dealt with heavy rains, delays and difficult field conditions.

    Jerry Coplen, AgriLife Extension agent, Knox County, said the pumpkin producer experienced a variety of adversities including planting delays, weeds and above-normal disease and pest pressure. Some of the grower’s acres produced exceptionally well – around 40,000 pounds per acre – while others failed completely or were damaged beyond salvaging.

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    Out-of-control weeds followed delays and muddy planting conditions as fields were too wet to manage, he said, and moisture levels led to above-normal fungicide treatments.

    Armyworms hit his fields around Labor Day and devastated 20-30 acres of his farm, Coplen said.

    “We experienced a lot of setbacks between the rain and weeds and armyworms,” he said. “From an acres-to-pounds standpoint, we’re looking at breaking even despite some acres doing very well.”

    Higher production costs

    Grower Jason Pyle with Pumpkin Pyle, Floydada, said it was an above-average year for difficulties and expenses. Those expense increases will mean slightly higher prices for consumers on some pumpkin varieties.

    Prices for the bins and pallets needed to hold and ship pumpkins were significantly higher and availability was limited. Input costs from fertilizer to pesticides were also up, he said.

    Labor was also an issue. Migrant harvest crews with H-2A work visas he typically hires were not allowed into the country, and finding people to harvest, clean and stack pumpkins has been his biggest challenge this season.

    “Harvest is highly dependent on manual labor, and the 50 to 70 guys I typically hire were unable to get here,” he said. “It’s been a challenging year, but we should be wrapping up in the next 10 days.”

    AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

    CENTRAL

    Decent rainfall amounts were received during several showers over multiple days. Topsoil conditions improved significantly. The rainfall was the first good precipitation since August.  Some locations reported over 6 inches of rain, but other places reported around 0.5 of an inch.

    Dry planted oats should benefit the most and likely emerge shortly. There was some concern among producers regarding armyworms emerging along with fall forage crops. The remaining cotton was likely to suffer some quality losses, however not much of the crop remained in fields.

    A drier and slightly cooler weather pattern should allow for the remaining cotton harvest to wrap up. Remaining oat acres and winter wheat plantings were likely to follow. Stock ponds were low. Livestock remained in good body condition, with some producers already feeding hay.

    ROLLING PLAINS

    Conditions were very dry with a few small showers late in the week. More rain was in the forecast. The moisture should help winter wheat emergence, and more wheat acres were planted following rains. Some producers were dry planting and hoping to catch rainfall.

    Clay County reported up to 2 inches of badly needed rainfall. Very little farm work was done due to very dry conditions. Irrigated cotton looked good in most places, but some dryland acres looked poor.

    Dickens County reported small, scattered rains should help cotton finish out. Grasshoppers were active and pasture conditions were declining. Supplemental feeding of livestock increased. Cattle looked good, but calf gains slowed some.

    COASTAL BEND

    Much-needed rain blanketed the area during the week and improved soil moisture levels. Rainfall totals were from 2-4.5 inches. Fieldwork was active until halted by rain. Cotton harvest continued but was complete in many counties, and gins were very busy. Rainfall should benefit pastures and upcoming tillage and stubble destruction.

    Ratoon crop rice was heading out. Winter pasture planting began. Armyworms were expected to emerge soon. Early season pecans, such as Pawnee, should be ready for harvest soon. Livestock were in good condition with higher auction prices reported.

    EAST

    No report.

    SOUTH PLAINS

    The district received moderate rain showers. Cotton bolls were opening across the district. Farmers expected to start defoliating cotton in a few weeks without a significant freeze. Corn and sorghum cutting was in full swing. The pumpkin harvest was still going strong in Floyd County. Cattle were in good condition.

    More on Cotton


    PANHANDLE

    Warm and very dry conditions continued. Nearly all counties reported short soil moisture conditions. Corn and sorghum harvests continued at a fast pace. Cotton development was good, and fiber quality was expected to be good due to warm, dry conditions. Wheat planting continued despite dry soils. Precipitation will be needed to improve wheat germination. Irrigated wheat producers were watering their fields. Rangeland and pastures were going into dormancy due to dry conditions. Fall and winter grazing will be in limited supply without rainfall soon.

    NORTH

    Soil moisture remained very short to short for some counties and adequate to short for other counties. Rainfall amounts varied across the district. Morning temperatures were cooler with daytime highs in the 80s to low 90s. Cooler temperatures and drier conditions slowed grass growth. Farmers were starting to plant grazing wheat. Livestock were in good condition. Fertilizer, wheat seed and some herbicides were more difficult to source and demanding higher prices.

    FAR WEST

    Cooler conditions were reported across many counties, with lows dipping into the 40s in the higher elevations and the 50s in the lower-lying areas. Daytime highs, while cooler on some days, still made it to the low-90s most days. Parts of the district received scattered rain from trace amounts up to 1.5 inches. Irrigation for cotton, pecans and all other crops in progress was nearing an end.

    The El Paso County Water Improvement District No. 1 was running effluent water into the system and would likely continue to do so through the end of the month. Cotton looked good, and rain showers benefited fields. The showers benefited some area pecan farmers as well, and some were preparing orchard floors for harvest. Pecans were already starting to be harvested in eastern parts of the district.

    Alfalfa farmers may get a last clipping before fields go dormant. Pumpkins were being harvested. Corn was also starting to come in. Producers continued to feed wildlife and livestock. Cattle producers were rotating herds on pastures and rangelands.

    WEST CENTRAL

    Much-needed rain helped green up pastures. Some producers planted wheat and oats and hoped to receive good enough rains to germinate seed. Field preparation continued in other fields for small grain planting once rain has provided moisture. The pecan crop progressed nicely. Cotton fields started to show some open bolls, and a few fields were sprayed with harvest aids.

    SOUTHEAST

    Soil moisture levels were very short to surplus. San Jacinto County received heavy rains last week that left fields muddy. In Jefferson County, a little main crop rice remained, but most of the rice was either organic or late-replant rice. A small amount of rice was ratooned this year. Producers were attempting to make a final hay cutting and plant cool-season forages. Home gardeners were working fall garden plantings, which looked productive. Rangeland and pasture ratings were very poor to excellent with good ratings being most common.

    SOUTHWEST

    Heavy rainfall was reported across most of the district. Up to 5 inches of rainfall were received in some areas, with runoff reported. Pastures and rangelands were improving where moisture was received. Most cotton was harvested, and corn harvest were almost complete.

    Winter pasture and wheat plantings began and should pick up with recent moisture. Fall calving and lambing began. Livestock were in fair to good condition, and markets were steady. Wildlife were in good condition. Bow-hunting season was getting underway, and deer populations were being aided by supplemental feeding.

    SOUTH

    Most areas reported mild weather and adequate soil moisture, with some areas reporting short moisture conditions. Some scattered rainfall was reported. Jim Wells County reported up to 1.5 inches of rain while Hidalgo and McMullen counties reported 3-plus inches of rainfall. Areas around Brownsville reported flooding following 10 inches of rainfall. Cotton and peanut harvests were ramping up, but some were slowed by rainfall.

    Cotton harvest was complete in some areas. Gins were busy and full of bales and modules. Winter vegetables were being planted, and some fields were emerging and growing. Wheat and oat plantings were also active. Pasture and rangeland conditions continued to decline in some areas, but other areas reported greener conditions. Livestock supplemental feeding increased. Most row crop fields were being prepared for winter.

    Producers were shredding and disking cotton and sorghum fields. Producers were irrigating sugarcane before heavy rains arrived. Citrus trees that remained continued to be rehabilitated from the February freeze. Hay season was wrapping up, and round bales were $50-$65. Some hay fields produced three cuttings. Cattle prices were steady. Small grains were being planted for grazing. Cactus tunas were still ripe and providing nutrition for wildlife and cattle. Oats were being planted for deer and wildlife.




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