LUBBOCK — Behind every perfectly grooved, unscarred, well- proportioned Jack-o-lantern is a farmer coupling tricks of the trade with treats from Mother Nature. And Texas pumpkin growers this year seem to have both in the bag.
The orange globes — ranging in size from 3 ounces to perhaps 25 pounds — now are being hoisted from field to truck to market at an increasing pace as both consumer demand and pumpkin quality are expected to be high for 1997, according to Dr. Rollie Roberts, Texas Agricultural Extension Service horticulturist in Lubbock.
Five South Plains counties — Lubbock, Floyd, Bailey, Hale and Lamb– produce pumpkins on up to 4,000 acres. The month-long harvest season for what may yield 30,000 to 40,000 pounds of pumpkins per acre is just beginning. Texas growers usually contract their acreage in advance to supply retailers throughout the South and to the East Coast, as the state’s pumpkins have a reputation for good quality.
“People want a solid pumpkin that’s not lopsided and has no scars,” said farmer Ben Roming of Muleshoe. “We plant them in good, strong ground and apply the right amount of fertilizer. Plus, we had more rain this year than in the past five or six years and didn’t have excessive heat. You can grow a good pumpkin in those conditions.”
Roming expects the pumpkin market to be “better than it has been in several years” as the strong demand is matched with good quality pumpkins. He said Texas consumers should have an ample supply of carving pumpkins, but Texas growers this year are getting calls from hopeful buyers in some new markets. Retailers in Arkansas, Mississippi and Florida have been scrambling for pumpkins, Roming said, as the crop apparently is short in those areas.
Near Floydada, where the community has staked its claims on the pumpkin patch with an annual festival — to be held this year on Oct. 24-25 — Floyd County Extension agent J.D. Ragland said growers there are experiencing a good year as well.
“Right now the market is hot and heavy,” Ragland said. “Prices are steady to slightly higher than last year, though that may drop off in mid-October.”
Roming, too, expects the market to continue strong for about a month. He has pumpkins planted at staggered dates to keep a fresh supply ready to harvest continually over the next four weeks.
After the end of October, Roming expects a drastic drop despite the use of pumpkins in ornamental fall harvest decorations and Thanksgiving pies.
“They are kind of like a Christmas tree. The day after the holiday, you can’t give them away,” he said.