You Want to Start a Commercial
Resources to help the beginning pumpkin farmer
Pumpkins are a crop that lend themselves well to small-scale and
part-time farming operations, particularly for agri-entertainment
operations like pumpkin patches and corn mazes. Pumpkins are seen as a
profitable opportunity by many farmers. Because of this, pumpkin acreage
has expanded greatly in recent years and competition in the pumpkin
market is increasing. Around 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins are produced
on 75,000 acres in the United States annually
Botany: Pumpkins are a member of the cucurbitaceae family, which also
includes squash, cantaloupes, cucumbers, watermelons, and gourds.
Individual plants produce both male and female flowers. Fruit shape, size,
and appearance (smooth or ribbed) vary, ranging from small (less than 5
pounds) to medium (12–24 pounds), and large (typically 40–60 pounds).
Pumpkins originated in America.
According to the 1997 Census of Agriculture, the top ten states in
pumpkin acreage are
- New York,
- New Jersey,
- New Mexico, and
Data on production value is sketchy, but it likely exceeds $150 million
annually in the United States.
Six basic marketing alternatives are available to the pumpkin grower:
- wholesale markets,
- Contracting to Big Box stores (Wal-Mart, Kmart, Lowe's, Home
- local retailers (grocery stores),
- roadside stands, and
- pick-your-own, pumpkin patch or corn maze operations.
Some farm stands and “U-Pick” operations have developed value-added
activities such as hay rides, pony rides, corn mazes and pumpkin festivals
to boost sales. When pumpkins are
shipped to the wholesale market, they
are shipped in bulk bins or stacked loose in trailers.
In wholesale marketing, either you or a shipper can take your crop to
the market. Shippers generally sell and transport pumpkins for a
predetermined price. Wholesale marketing is subject to the most price
fluctuations. Marketing cooperatives generally use a daily pooled cost and
price, which spreads price fluctuations over all participating producers.
Local retailers are another possible market, but you must take the time to
contact produce managers and provide high-quality pumpkins when stores
Roadside stands (either your own or another grower’s) and pick-your-own
operations provide opportunities to receive higher than wholesale prices
for your pumpkins, but you may have some additional expenses for
advertising, building and maintaining a facility, maintaining liability
insurance and providing service to your customers. With pick-your-own
operations, you save on harvest costs, but you must also be willing to
accept some waste.
Depending on your location, processors may or may not be a marketing
option. Processors are less likely to contract with small-acreage growers.
Common commercial pumpkin varieties:
Pumpkins grow best on soils that hold water well and have good air and
water filtration. If you grow pumpkins on sandy soil, irrigation is
important to ensure optimum plant growth, uniform fruit set, and robust
development. Soil should have a pH of 5.8 to 6.6. Pumpkins require a
constant supply of moisture during the growing season. Water deficiency or
stress, especially during the blossom-fruit set period, can reduce fruit
size or cause blossoms and fruits to drop, resulting in reduced yields.
Pumpkins also are sensitive to cold temperatures and plants can be
injured by even a slight frost. The best average temperature range during
the growing season is between 65° and 95°F; temperatures above 95°F or
below 50°F will slow the growth and maturation of the crop.
PennState says the Initial resource requirements for irrigated pumpkins
Land: 1 acre
Labor: 19 hours per acre
Harvesting costs: $300 per acre
Capital: $3,000 per acre
- Depreciation on equipment: $300 per acre
Resources and References
Overall guides to growing pumpkins commercially
How to start a pumpkin patch or other gri-entertainment operation
Commercial Production and Management of Pumpkins and Gourds,
University of Georgia - This online publication covers all parts of
successful pumpkin management and includes marketing tips.
Grading Manual for Canned Pumpkin and Canned Squash, Ag Marketing
Service, 1957 - This document details how pumpkins are processed.
A Halloween Pumpkin Primer, The State Journal-Register, 2009 -
Illinois leads the United States in pumpkin production and
A Halloween Tradition, AgSelect.com, 2001 - This site provides a
general overview of pumpkins, production and marketing.
Organic Pumpkin and Winter Squash Production, Appropriate
Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA), NCAT, 2003 - This
document covers production, weed and pest management, harvesting and
Pumpkin Butter and Mashed or Pureed Squashes, University of
Georgia, 1997 - This one-page document reviews safety regarding
canned pumpkin products.
- Pumpkin Nook
- This Web site calls itself the "Internet shrine and library for
pumpkins." It includes information on growing, holiday ideas and
Pumpkin Production Guide, Natural Resource, Agriculture, and
Engineering Service, 2003 - This 152-page guide covers the basics to
cutting-edge research. It includes sample budgets and marketing ideas.
It is available for purchase.
Pumpkins, Vegetables and Melons Outlook, Economic Research Service
(ERS), USDA, 2007.
- Pumpkins & More, University of Illinois - This site is completely
devoted to pumpkins. It includes sections on growing, selection and
uses, varieties and festival ideas.
Pumpkins and Squash, Vegetable Research and Information Center,
University of California Cooperative Extension - This resource site
has links to summer and winter squash and pumpkin production.
Pumpkins, Commercial Vegetable Production, Kansas State University
- This document outlines commercial pumpkin production for Kansas. It
includes production costs and direct marketing ideas.
Vegetables and Melons, ERS, USDA - This government portal provides
general information and statistics on the U.S. vegetable and melon
Supplies, Shipping Containers and management services
bins to ship your pumpkins. We have no affiliation with any of these.
Fertilizer and Pest management
Management and crop enhancements - M&D Enterprises has a water
management program which they say will increase the efficiency of water.
Reduce runoff which will reduce erosion, increase effectiveness of
herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers, elimination of dry spots on lawns,
pastures, crop fields, and alfalfa. Seed treatment for germination and root
growth. A liquid micronutritional fertilizer supplement to help maximize
Pumpkin Farm, Half Moon Bay, California - This farm claims to be
the oldest working pumpkin farm in San Mateo County. Pumpkins have
been grown since 1932. The Arata farm specializes in hosting school
groups. It also distributes pumpkins nationwide.
Pumpkin Farm, Lockport, Illinois - Bengtson’s, a working pumpkin
farm, offers a variety of activities for families, including a haunted
and fun barn, pumpkin launcher and racing pigs.
County Line Orchard, Ag Marketing Resource Center, 2002 - Located
in Hobart, Indiana, County Line Orchard is operated by the McAfees, a
fifth-generation farm family. The orchard is a pumpkin and you-pick
apple farm that specializes in agritourism. The farm hosts students
and teachers for educational tours. About half of the family's total
business comes from pumpkin sales and apple and cider sales.
Apple Farm, Penrose, Colorado - This farm offers more than just
apples. The you-pick pumpkin patch becomes haunted during October. The
farm hosts Halloween activities that include each guest receiving a
pumpkin, candy and a “death ride to lighted pumpkin field.” Visitors
are encouraged to dress in costumes.
- Kathy's Pumpkin Patch, Donnellson, Iowa - The
pumpkin patch is part of a third-generation crop farm located
in southeast Iowa. The farm grows about 30 acres of pumpkins, squash
and fall ornamentals and sells them at their roadside stand. Kathy's
Pumpkin Patch also hosts fall activities and events through Halloween.
- Milky Way
Farm, Chester Springs, Pennsylvania - The family-owned and
-operated dairy farm offers birthday parties and private and school
group tours. During October, the farm hosts a you-pick pumpkin patch.
About 25,000 pumpkins are grown on 10 acres.
- Nordic Ridge
Gardens, Calumet, Minnesota - This former dairy farm promotes
educational school field trips during September and October. In
addition to thousands of pumpkins, the farm raises squash, gourds and
Pumpkin Farm, Franksville, Wisconsin - This farm in Racine County
features many activities and tours during harvest and Halloween, such
as pumpkin bowling, a corn maze and a haunted house.
Walters' Pumpkin Patch, Burns, Kansas - This pumpkin patch started
out as a farming and ranching business for Carroll and Becky Walters.
In 1998, the Walters decided to grow pumpkins as a business, and
Walters' Pumpkin Patch began to take shape.
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