The state of pumpkin production in Pennsylvania

Any pumpkins produced in Clinton and Centre counties end up at the Sugar Valley Produce Auction where buyers for grocery stores and roadside stands bid on them.

Next week I am giving several presentations at the 2018 Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Conference, in Hershey. One of these presentations will be an update of our two-year pumpkin variety trial.

Why study pumpkins? It’s an important crop for diversified vegetable operations in Pennsylvania. According to the 2012 USDA Census of Agriculture, pumpkins are grown on 1,330 of Pennsylvania’s 3,968 vegetable farms, ranking the state first in number of pumpkin farms in the U.S.

In almost all other categories (yield, price and acreage), Pennsylvania ranks somewhere in the top 5.

The title of pumpkin production king belongs to Illinois. Depending on the year, this state can produce two to four times more than any other state. The statistic can be misleading, though. Most of the pumpkins grown in Illinois are for processing (canned pumpkins) whereas most of Pennsylvania’s are used for aesthetics (Halloween/fall decorations). This use of pumpkins is reflected in price comparisons. Illinois pumpkins fetched about $7 per 100 pounds, while Pennsylvania pumpkins fetched around $21 per 100 pounds.

Twenty-one pumpkin cultivars were evaluated at three sites: central Pennsylvania at Penn State’s Russell E. Larson Research Center in Pennsylvania Furnace (the location I was involved with), southwestern Pennsylvania at Yarnick’s Farm, LLC in Indiana, and southeastern Penn State’s Southeast Research and Extension Center in Manheim. These three sites allowed us to observe how the crop performed in various soil types, environmental conditions, production methods. For comparisons, we evaluated entries by comparing them with the “Gladiator” variety of pumpkins based on conversations with growers.

PHOTOS BY TOM BUTZLER Illinois is the top pumpkin-producing state but most of that production is for the processing market.

Plant breeders and seed companies are really producing some outstanding varieties. Based on yield, all cultivars evaluated were not different than the standard Gladiator, across all three sites.

Growers should consider quality including shade of orange, shape, and degree of ribbing when selecting cultivars. Many cultivars can be selected to meet varying consumer preference for these quality factors without sacrificing yield.

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Tom Butzler is a horticulture educator with the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension Service and may be reached at 570-726-0022.

Depending on the year, Illinois can produce two to four times more pumpkins than any other state.

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