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Friday, June 21, 2024

Pumpkins higher in price, lower in quality

Sonya Robbins picked up a 5-pound pumpkin off the table at a pumpkin stand in Gainesville, examining it in her left hand and its price tag in her right, flipping the tag over as if looking for a magic number to appear.

She then placed both back on the table and left the stand empty-handed.

"I don't remember spending this much on a pumpkin," the Gainesville resident said.

Pumpkins are in high demand this year, but shipments are small and prices are high because of unfavorable weather, said Craig Smouse, produce manager at Ward's Supermarket.

The price of pumpkins has gone up about 4 cents a pound, but the main concern is not the price difference, he said.

Smouse said rainy weather is making pumpkins rot, and dry weather in some pumpkin-producing states is causing the crop to thin.

"It's more of a quality issue," he said. "No one wants a rotten pumpkin."

Ward's usually sells about 1,200 to 1,500 pumpkins annually, but Smouse is not sure it will happen this year.

The weather has caused shipping costs to rise as well, he said.

Florida's hot and humid climate makes pumpkin production difficult, so pumpkins have to be shipped from the west.

But some of the best pumpkin states are not doing well this year.

Illinois, the top pumpkin-producing state, had problems with its crop this year because of adverse effects of drought and flooding, said Gary Lucier, an agricultural economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Lucier said there is no evidence that there will be a national shortage, but local and regional weather issues frequently cause problems with the pumpkin crop every year.

"On a normal year, drier states usually do really well, but this year they aren't," Smouse said.

There is also an additional fuel charge for shipping the seasonal gourds.

"It's not terrible if you consider gas prices," he said, "but it's unfortunate that we have to pass the additional cost on to consumers."

People usually buy pumpkins weighing about 15 to 20 pounds, usually costing about 45 cents per pound, Smouse said.

But it now costs about 49 cents per pound, depending on the store, he added.

The week before Halloween should predict how well pumpkin sales will go for Ward's, he said.

The first pumpkin shipment was received on time, and there are now about 200 to 300 pumpkins on display.

"Only time will tell," Smouse said. "I'm hoping to sell at least 1,200, but there are no guarantees at this point."

Ken Boote, an agricultural science professor at UF, said he is not surprised at the shortage.

"The whole upper South, where it is cool enough to grow pumpkins, is suffering a major drought which would severely impact production," he said.

Alachua County residents and pumpkin consumers have mixed thoughts about the shortage and its effects.

Kristen Freeman, a Gainesville resident, said she doesn't care about the price change.

She said her family buys pumpkins from her children's elementary school because the proceeds go toward the youth department.

"It doesn't matter what the price is, since it goes to the school," Freeman said. "I've done it for the past six years."

But other Gainesville residents, like Robbins, are unhappy about the price increase.

"For someone who celebrates Halloween, I should be getting two pumpkins for the price of one," Robbins said. "It shouldn't be the other way around."

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