Nature deals a blow to pumpkin sales

Key Points
  • Home Depot won't carry pumpkins this year in some hurricane-affected areas to "allow those stores to focus on storm recovery."
  • One grower who sells to Home Depot and other large retailers said he was stuck with pumpkins when Florida buyers squashed plans to buy.
  • "When you have a natural disaster, it changes everybody's priorities," said retail analyst C. Britt Beemer.
  • Meantime, there are reports of Mother Nature dealing a blow to pumpkin patches in portions of Texas where tropical storms brought heavy rains.
Austin Andres and her son Quinn, 2, shop for pumpkins at Maple Acres Farm in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017.
Matt Rourke | AP

If you're looking for pumpkins in Florida and Texas this year, there's a chance some retailers may not be stocking them — and for reasons that might surprise you.

In the wake of destruction from hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Home Depot is one of the retailers not stocking as many pumpkins this year.

"Although we are selling pumpkins in Florida and Texas, we are confirming that there are select stores that won't be carrying pumpkins this year," said Home Depot spokesman Will Ayers. "This will allow those stores to focus on storm recovery and products to help homeowners with rebuilding."

Home Depot usually sells about 1.5 million pumpkins per year.

Lowe's, though, said it carried pumpkins in all of its stores in Texas and Florida this year. "We wanted to make sure that families who were impacted by hurricanes had the opportunity to celebrate their Halloween traditions and experience a sense of normalcy," said Steve Salazar, a spokesman for the retailer.

Still, demand appears to be softer this year in some regions for the decorative pumpkin, particularly in states impacted by the hurricane disasters. Loads of pumpkins in some growing areas of the Southeast such as Virginia still need buyers due to less interest from retailers in Florida.

"When you have a natural disaster, it changes everybody's priorities," said C. Britt Beemer, a retail analyst with America's Research Group in Orlando. He pointed out that in some of the disaster areas, such as Houston, many flood-damaged homes are still not livable and families are staying temporarily in hotels.

Recovery efforts continue and some homeowners appear to be focusing on repairing damaged homes and replacing flood-soaked belongings rather than buying pumpkins used for decoration.

"We had a lot of stuff that was going to South Florida, and the orders got canceled on us because of the storms," said James Hayes, a pumpkin farmer in Meadowview, Virginia. "We've shopped around and been pretty much able to find a home for everything that we've got — except for 60 to 70 bins of white pumpkins that we have left."

Hayes, who typically sells to Home Depot and other large retailers, said he had to "knock the price down some" to move unsold product. But he found buyers in Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama and his home state of Virginia.

Nationwide, the weighted average advertised price of pumpkins was $3.89 apiece this year, down from $3.95 a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Oct. 20 National Retail Report.

Hayes said he completely understands why some of the retailers in storm-hit communities are focusing on people getting building supplies rather than pumpkins this year. "With people without a roof over their head, they don't want a jack-o-lantern and stuff right now," he said.

Among Halloween shoppers, 46 percent this year are planning to carve a pumpkin, according to a National Retail Federation survey of 7,013 consumers conducted Sept. 5-13. The percentage of Halloween consumers saying they plan to carve pumpkins has remained steady the past two years.

Meantime, there are reports of Mother Nature dealing a blow to pumpkin patches in portions of Texas where the tropical storms brought heavy rains.

"Where that hurricane hit, it absolutely created tremendous issues," said Tim Assiter, who grows pumpkins in Floydada, Texas, a city located in the northern part of the state. "We had 12 hours away by car (600-700 miles) additional moisture and rainfall that created some micro problems in our fields."

The Texas farmer said heavy rains from Harvey also led to situations of tractors and trailers that couldn't get into fields to harvest the decorative type of pumpkins during prime wholesale shipping to retailers.

Also, there were reports of some stormy weather during July in parts of Pennsylvania that destroyed entire crops in some fields.

Excessive rainfall, hailstorms and other harsh weather caused some areas to experience "lower pumpkin yields or crop losses this year," according to Mark O'Neill of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

Elsewhere, Michigan had torrential rains in late June that wiped out pumpkin crops, and there were instances of farmers simply not replanting. Indiana's crop also was affected by rainstorms.

"We had a very wet spring, and a lot of the acres of pumpkins didn't produce and didn't come up in our area," said Indiana pumpkin farmer Chris Steele, who is the state farm bureau's county president from Adams County, in the northeastern portion of Indiana.

However, in Illinois, the nation's leading pumpkin producer, there's plenty of the fruit for the pumpkin pie-baking season. Illinois produces about 90 percent of the country's canned pumpkin, while other states focus mostly on the ornamental market.

"This year's crop is looking great," said Allison Kolodziej Baker, spokesperson for Nestle, owner of Libby's. "The harvest is well underway, and thanks to favorable (warm and dry) summer weather, store shelves will be fully stocked with Libby's over the holiday baking season and into next year."