Pumpkin Prices Higher as Crop Successfully Endures Drought

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Seth Perlman / AP

While some regions are experiencing shortages, many farms like this one in Morton, Ill., are producing healthy pumpkin crops despite this year's drought.

Last year’s flooding throughout the Midwest pushed prices of some pumpkins 60% higher around the U.S. This year, widespread drought is causing prices to edge up once more because of several regional shortages. But this time, most farmers are expecting one of the healthiest pumpkin crops in years — and they’ve actually got the drought to thank.

The Drought of 2012 has extended its arid tentacles into so much of what we’ve bought this year: Prices for U.S. beef, milk and groceries in general have all been higher. Problems shipping commodities along the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes may still force prices up on everything from cereal to automobiles.

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But the drought appears to have substantially helped pumpkin farmers. While there will likely be fewer pumpkins this year than last – some regions are reporting drought-related shortages – the pumpkins that farms are producing are big, healthy and likely to be a hit with consumers. And they’re being found from Iowa all the way to Florida.

“We’ve got beautiful, beautiful pumpkins coming in,” Al Mueller of Uncle Al’s Season Retail, Inc., told NBC2 in Fort Myers, Fla.

In the Midwest, while production is hurting in some areas, many farms are bursting with pumpkins. One official with the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship told the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier that while some farmers didn’t get much of a pumpkin crop at all, others – often irrigated throughout the summer – are producing large numbers.

Those Iowa farms seem to be an accurate cross section of what’s going on around the country. The farmers who got hit with too little rain have a poor crop. But those that got just the right amount and irrigated properly are producing thousands.

Still, that variability has caused pumpkin prices to increase. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, prices are slightly higher than they were last year. The average retail price for pumpkins is around $4.80. Last year, the price was closer to $4.60.

The heart of pumpkin production is northern Illinois, a state that has been hard hit by drought like the rest of the Midwest. But it turns out that pumpkins don’t need as much rain as other crops like corn or soybeans. They often do better in warmer climates, which helps them fight off certain diseases that thrive in wetter areas. Pumpkins also have extensive root systems that can find water deep in the soil that other crops often can’t get to.

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One farmer told the Associated Press that pumpkins are “a bright spot in production this year” in a season during which farmers were hit hard for three straight years – a 2010 and 2011 full of water, and a 2012 without enough.

Thanks to last year’s flooding, pumpkin prices got frightening in a number of areas. In New York state, they were 60% higher than 2010, according to The Wall Street Journal. But while some are predicting price increases of anywhere from 10% to 60% again, those higher estimates seem a bit much this time around for a crop that is healthy in a number of areas.

And for those thinking that a minor pumpkin shortage is in any way tied to shortage of Starbucks’ popular Pumpkin Spice Latte, it’s not. Demand for the popular seasonal drink caused the coffee chain to temporarily run out of the pumpkin sauce used in the drink. But it was largely due to infrequent deliveries.