Tim Hearden/Capital Press
ANDERSON, Calif. — Pumpkin farms in California report some of the best yields in memory as pleasant weather this fall has brought scores of tourists to enjoy their attractions.
At Hawes Farms in Anderson, grower Greg Hawes is marveling at what he says is the best crop he’s seen in about a dozen years.
“It just really looks good,” said Hawes, noting that sizes and overall quality have improved from recent years. “Most of my other stuff like my grains didn’t do well, but the pumpkins are beautiful. Maybe they like the extra heat.”
Wayne Bishop, owner of Bishop’s Pumpkin Farm, thinks so, too. Heat waves this summer delayed crop set a bit, which worried him in August and September, he said.
But the crop turned out plentiful, and the temperatures in the 70s and 80s during October brought in big crowds, he said.
“It’s been a wonderful season,” Bishop said. “I don’t ever remember weather any better than we’ve had this fall.”
The season’s only blemish was a light rainstorm on Oct. 19-20, but such little rain was more of a help to unpicked pumpkins than a hindrance.
“It’s nice to give them a little shot in the arm,” said Carl Hawkins, general manager of Hawes Farms. He added that mold and rot weren’t a concern.
“We have some clear skies coming through, and next week it’s supposed to get back up into the 90s,” he said Oct. 20.
The big yields and relatively warm weather should help pumpkin patches meet what is certain to be a high demand in the days leading up to Halloween.
This year’s conditions were just right after several years in which weather complicated pumpkin season in one way or another. Last year, crews rushed to harvest as many pumpkins as possible in early October before anticipated rains came, eventually breaking records for the month in some areas.
In 2015, hot weather lingered into October, keeping people busy with summertime activities and stifling attendance, Bishop said.
“People need to know that it’s fall and not summer anymore,” he said. “When it’s up in the 90s, people are not thinking about getting pumpkins.”
And in 2014, a storm that dumped nearly 3 inches of rain in the northern Sacramento Valley in late September caused Hawes Farms to lose between 5 and 10 percent of its pumpkins to rot.
California’s abundance comes as retailers in some areas of the country are reporting a pumpkin shortage, largely because of hurricane and storm damage in Florida and Texas, CNBC reported. Home Depot, which usually sells about 1.5 million pumpkins per year, isn’t stocking as many this year, the network reported.
However, demand for pumpkins has also waned this year as residents in hurricane-impacted areas focus on essentials.
“When you have a natural disaster, it changes everybody’s priorities,” C. Britt Beemer, a retail analyst with America’s Research Group in Orlando, Fla., told CNBC.
Nationwide, the retail price of pumpkins has averaged $3.89 apiece, down from $3.95 a year ago, reported the USDA’s National Retail Report for specialty crops.
The per-pound average on Oct. 20 was 33 cents, down from 46 cents the week before and 89 cents a year ago, according to the USDA.
In a typical year, nearly 6,000 acres of pumpkins are grown in California, one of the nation’s top six pumpkin-producing states. Most are planted in May or June for the Halloween season, according to the University of California Cooperative Extension.
Most of the pumpkins grown in California are sold in the state, the California Farm Bureau Federation has reported.
Over the last decade, many pumpkin farms in California have developed into booming tourist attractions. Now in its 13th year of providing entertainment, Hawes Farms offers a corn maze, train and hay rides and other attractions that thousands of families enjoy each autumn.
Bishop’s attractions include a corn maze, pig races and train rides. Neither farm ships out any of their pumpkins.
“We do about 8,000 students and parents for field trips each year,” Hawes Farms’ Hawkins said. “We try to teach them a little bit (about agriculture).”