Texas pumpkin producers experienced a second sub-par season in a row, as drought conditions led to fewer management issues, but lower yields, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts. However, lower yields were translating into higher prices and demand.
Mark Carroll, AgriLife Extension agriculture agent, Floyd County, said drought contributed to below average yields, though many fields performed better than 2021 when too much rain led to yields 30% below average.
The pumpkin harvest in Floyd County, the top-producing area in the state, should wrap up within the next 10 days, Carroll said.
Producers reported a mixed bag of results due to drought, he said. Some who had ample irrigation capacity improved production by 10%-20% compared to last year, while others reported yields 10% below last year.
Boggy conditions made it difficult to impossible for producers to enter fields to manage the crop effectively in 2021, and yields suffered.
“We had virtually no rainfall this summer, so the crop relied entirely on irrigation,” he said. “Getting the crop well established was an issue, but by July most fields looked good because pumpkins do really well in the heat.”
Texas pumpkin production
Producers typically plant pumpkins between early May and June depending on the production window for harvest. Operations hoping to provide pumpkins for wholesale markets around the state and country want harvest in early September, while producers hoping to fill direct-to-consumer demand want harvest to begin in late September.
“It all comes down to the market they are hoping to supply,” Carroll said. “Whether that is the wholesale route to grocery stores and other retailers or selling from their storefront, they want them ready for Halloween and fall decorations.”
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 in Texas 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 Texas growers continue 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. Some producers sell pumpkins and pumpkin-based products directly to consumers at seasonal destination stores.
Pumpkin producer Cris Hacker, of Hacker Farms in nearby Knox County, said demand and prices have been better than ever but unfortunately his production was about 50% of what it should be. Last year, his production was down about 40% compared to an average season.
Hacker produces about 20 varieties, including several jack-o’-lantern cultivars, as well as fairy-tale, ghost and Cinderella varieties to meet a mix of commercial and direct-to-consumer demand. He is also a contract grower for large grocery retailers.
Crop emergence was an issue in 50 acres of the 150 acres he planted this year, he said. He planted 100 acres around Memorial Day. Rainfall followed the planting, and plants emerged well. He planted the additional 50 acres two weeks later, and only around 20% of those plants emerged even with irrigation.
Hacker suspects poor pollination was another issue that hurt yields in his fields. He noted a much lower bee presence this season and said daytime temperatures were around 110 degrees during peak pollination.
In previous reports, AgriLife Extension horticulture specialists and plant physiologists said poor plant pollination during extreme heat could impact various crop yields. Pollen viability begins to degrade when temperatures rise beyond the mid-90-degree mark, and bees are less active in extreme heat.
“The plants looked better than ever, healthy and full, but did not put on any fruit,” he said. “There were nowhere near as many bees compared to last year, and I noticed neighbors with irrigated cotton had a similar issue – good looking plants that were not putting on bolls.”
Beyond the poor emergence and potential pollination issues, Hacker said the 2022 season presented fewer production issues compared to the overabundance of moisture last year. But the resulting yields were disappointing amid such good market conditions.
High demand is a result of lackluster production in Texas and other states, including New Mexico and Oklahoma.
“The price is the best it’s ever been, and the demand is incredible,” Hacker said. “Buyers call every day begging for pumpkins because it looks like most everyone’s production is down this season.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Temperatures were milder during the day and much cooler at night, but soil conditions, pastures and tanks remained dry. Rain was desperately needed throughout the district. Hay season was about over, and producers were looking for more bales. Rangeland and pasture conditions were very poor. All livestock diets were being supplemented. Row crops were about harvested. Pecan harvesting of early varieties started.
Weather was warm and dry. Pastures were dried up, and hay supplies were dwindling. Some hay fields produced good quality and yields while there was moisture. Rangelands were drying down after abundant growth followed heavy rains in August. Hay prices continued to go up, forcing livestock producers to make crucial decisions. Cotton conditions worsened. Armyworms and flea hoppers were reported in cotton. Producers continued to sow wheat into very dry soil. Armyworm numbers were beyond thresholds in emerged wheat fields, and many producers were delaying wheat planting until moisture arrived and pest pressure subsided. Some wheat fields showed sporadic emergence.
Dry weather continued with cooler fall temperatures. Producers were taking advantage of drier conditions to get tractors and spray rigs into fields for tillage, row making and stalk destruction. There were still a few cotton fields left to harvest and a little bit of late-planted grain sorghum was changing color. Producers continued to plant winter pasture in wheat, oats and ryegrass, however, soil moisture was declining. The pecan crop looked good with good quality but small nut sizes. Rangeland and pasture conditions improved in some areas but were deteriorating in other areas. Widespread armyworm damage was reported. Hay fields were being cut and baled. Livestock were gaining weight, fall weaning was underway. Markets were holding steady at a good price.
Drought conditions were spreading across the district. Counties were reestablishing burn bans. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to good. Subsoil and topsoil conditions were short. Hay production came to a sudden halt. Producers in some areas began feeding hay. Livestock were in fair to good condition with some supplementation taking place. Producers continued to cull herds.
Conditions were very dry. Some cotton was harvested. Bolls were opening pretty quickly with the warmer weather and cooler evenings. A few cucumber fields were still being harvested, but the season was wrapping up. Corn and sorghum silage was being cut. Pastures were being grazed or cut and baled for hay. Armyworms were in wheat fields. A few irrigation pivots were running on winter wheat.
Weather across the region remained unseasonably warm, and moisture remained extremely low. Soil moisture levels were very short to short. Wheat planting continued. Most planted acres were irrigated and intended for grazing. Corn harvest continued. Cotton continued to progress with several fields starting to show open bolls. Many producers were preparing to apply harvest aides. Grain sorghum was coloring in many areas. Silage trucks were active. The end of summer haying was nearing. Rangeland and pasture conditions were very poor to poor.
Topsoil moisture throughout the district was short to adequate. Temperatures cooled to the mid-80s during the day with night temperatures falling into the low 50s. Winter wheat and oat fields needed rain to emerge. Pasture conditions continued to decline. Hay was still in high demand. Cotton and soybeans were in fair condition.
Temperatures were cooler with highs in the mid-80s and nighttime lows in the 40s in the higher elevations and 50s in the low-lying areas. Scattered rain showers delivered trace amounts of moisture. Pasture grasses were growing but in decline. Hay grazer was dying, and most wheat had not emerged. Cotton harvest should begin soon, and yields were expected to be very short. Calf weaning and shipping continued for beef producers. Hunting season was gearing up for many landowners.
Temperatures were cooler with a hint of fall in the mornings. Drought conditions continued to intensify with forages really drying out. Soil moisture levels were very low. Farmers will need rain prior to any more planting. A few hay fields were being cut and baled. There were some reports of armyworms in pastures and walnut caterpillars in pecan trees. Livestock producers continued to cull animals.
No precipitation was reported. Dry conditions persisted with cooler temperatures reported. Producers were starting to plant winter grains. Pastures were still in good condition, but moisture was declining. Livestock and wildlife were still in good shape. Supplemental feeding of livestock continued.
Soil moisture conditions were very short to adequate depending on the location around the district. Some producers reported up to 2 inches of rainfall. Temperatures were mild with cooler mornings. Cotton harvest continued. Peanut fields matured under irrigation. Watermelon and cantaloupe season was complete. Pecan orchards looked good, and harvest should start soon. Fieldwork was at a standstill due to dry conditions in some areas, while growers were actively working fields in other areas. Some sugarcane and citrus fields were being irrigated. Rangeland and pasture conditions were poor to good with improvement in some areas while others continued to decline. Coastal Bermuda grass was being cut for the last time. Hay was baled, and bale yields and quality were good to excellent in some areas. Armyworms were damaging some pastures and fields. Livestock continued to have good grazing, and supplemental feeding was minimal. Local cattle markets reported low sale volumes and steady prices. Trees, including mesquite, were defoliating. Hunters were planting winter wheat and oats. Livestock conditions continued to improve.
Adam Russell is a communication specialist for Texas A&M AgriLife. Adam is responsible for writing news releases and feature articles focused on Texas A&M AgriLife Extension programs and science-based information generated by Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientists across the state. He also generates the weekly Texas Crop and Weather Report and handles public and media relations.