The Great Pumpkin Shortage Is Over, but Worries Remain

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The industry is recovering from last year's Great Pumpkin Shortage, but larger changes are needed to prevent future risk to Thanksgiving pies.Along with turkey, cranberries and sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie is a Thanksgiving standard, a reassuring link to celebrations past, present and future. Let Halloween have its eye-catching candy and let Christmas enjoy its elaborate cookies: on Thanksgiving, the mild orange pie evokes the simple pleasures of autumn harvests.

But in 2009, rain threatened to destroy this basic part of the Thanksgiving celebration, leaving millions of families bereft of holiday desserts. A year later, America's pumpkin industry has rebounded, but the lessons and worries of 2009 remain.

Lack of Diversity Threatens Pies

A large part of the reason for the Great Pumpkin Crisis of 2009 was the fact that a single company -- Libby's -- controls an estimated 90% of the world's pumpkin. To make things worse, the food producer, which is owned by Nestle, gets most of its supply of the vibrant orange squash from a single area: Morton, Ill., the self-described "Pumpkin Capital of the World."

Libby's supplies Morton's farmers with seeds for its own personal strain of Dickinson pumpkins, a fast-growing fruit that is two to three times larger than the average pumpkin and has a much larger flesh-to-seed ratio. Farmers then grow between 5,000 and 6,000 acres of the gourds, which get processed at a nearby plant and shipped across the country.

Given Morton's outsized contribution to the world's pumpkin crop, weather in the small Illinois town can have wide-ranging and devastating effects. In 2008, for example, a bad harvest left pumpkin stocks low. Generally, this wouldn't be a major problem; a good year could easily replenish the pumpkin supply. Unfortunately, 2009 was even worse.

Heavy rains
left tractors bogged down in fields and pumpkins rotting on vines. According to Evan Lundee, brand manager for Libby's, only six cans were left in the company's warehouse last Thanksgiving. Across the country, as shelves emptied, pumpkin profiteers scalped cans of the precious gourd on eBay. Even now, a year later, some sellers are still offering pumpkin for $6 per can, more than three times its recommended price.

Pumpkin Surplus Coming?

This year, Morton was ready to refill stocks. Farmers planted early and planted extra, which led to an early -- and impressive -- pumpkin harvest. To cover its bases, Libby's also contracted farmers in surrounding states to plant the gourds. Between the shift in planting and the extra acreage, this year's shelves should be groaning under the weight of canned pumpkin.

Even so, pie fans still have much to worry about. To begin with, Libby's has used last year's pumpkin shortage as an excuse to raise prices. Citing their decision to plant extra fields, the food company has added $0.20 to each can, a 12% markup. While not as shocking as the $6 per can price on eBay, it is nonetheless a significant jump.

More worrisome, as last years harvest demonstrated, the reliance on a single strain of pumpkin -- and a single area for most cultivation -- remains a dangerous shortcoming for the industry that could threaten Thanksgiving pies in years to come.

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jlsntx

If you find a sincere enough pumpkin patch, the Great Pumpkin will rise up and give you gifts of Pumpkin Pie filling for FREE!!! Of course, cornering the market, putting all your production in one area of the country with no diversification, ignoring the "patch producers" will place pumpkin pie production perchance precariosly perched; probably.

November 26 2010 at 3:17 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
uarchangle2

Don't worry about it! Just stop eating Pumpkin!

November 26 2010 at 8:19 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Duane

Not a problem in California, we have so much excess they sell to hog farmers. The "Junk" crop is so cheap they are too expensive to truck anywhere. China also got into the act. They are now a grower...check your Wal-Mart cans folks. A 1 pound can probably only has 15 oz of pumpkin, the other ounce is lead.

November 26 2010 at 12:38 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Duane's comment
jlsntx

Well said truck driver! China and India are the worlds leading pollution producers. All you free market people should strive to make the market free and equal by placing a pollution tax on everything produced in these decimated countries so the cost of production will show the real cost.

November 26 2010 at 3:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ronsjigslures123

Libbys is not the only HUGGGGGGE company and they are HUGE. that contracts famers to grow, chicken Huge companys, do it that way, corn,beans, and many other foods we eat are controlled by only a FEW large Corps., even the beef industry, Next time you purchase your favorite food product no matter what it is look on the back of the product who makes it or owns it, many of our house hold name products have been bought up by a hand full of corps. so they own and contoll the nations food, and that is the ultamate POWER of a country.

November 26 2010 at 12:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ronsjigslures123

Very good articial, very informative on a very popular item in American culture and it also goes to show the USA people what happens when Giant corperations hold all the cards. Prices go up and the people are at there mursy. When i said in other blogs about large banks buying up other banks that have gone bust, and that some day soon there will be only a hand full of banks in the USA, i got bad replys reed this and you will see what will happen when a FEW controll all the money transactions in this country, the people will suffer, just like the FEW large food corps. that own all most all our food in this country...look at the prices at the store UP 50%.

November 26 2010 at 12:32 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
DAVE

It makes one wonder if foods we use and need every day, are also controled and grown the same way. If so we are in troubke.

November 25 2010 at 9:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Melissa

Give everyone a lesson to do as I do. You don't need canned pumpkin. Purchase a few sugar pumpkins in october, cut off the rinds, cook in the oven till tender, mash and then freeze in 1&1/2 cup portions. You will then have pumpkin for Thanksgiving and your pies will taste better by usuing fresh pumpkin rather than canned.

November 25 2010 at 7:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Melissa's comment
georgii1

Better idea. Don't cut off the rind. Just cut in half, turn upside down, and cook. Then scrap out, mash, and freeze. If you turn the open side up the water stays in and you'll have to drain the cooked pumpkin.

November 26 2010 at 8:38 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Betts

I find this hard to believe...I've seen thousands of pumpkins rotting away at roadside stands here in NW Florida after Halloween.

November 25 2010 at 4:20 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
outonalimn

Mr. Watson, You’ve used the words, “threatened,” “bereft,” “worries,” “Great Pumpkin Crisis,” “worse,” “devastating,” “worse,” “bogged down,” “rotting on the vine,” “scalped,” “groaning,” “bad,” “unfortunately,” “worse,” “worrisome,” “shocking,” “dangerous shortcoming,” to talk about pie. Thanks for the objective journalism, Bruce. Clearly, you are qualified to replace Peter Orzag. How can anyone be “threatened” by pie filling? Wake up. No one needs pie filling. It’s an unnecessary treat that leads to obesity. Michelle Obama makes that very clear. Besides, as long as the Federal government doesn’t start regulating farmers’ ability to plant pumpkins and charge whatever they want then farmers are free to cash in on the 20 cent increase by planting some. (Ssshhhh, don’t give any ideas to the Democrats that may be channeling FDR.) More farmers planting pumpkins means more supply – in other words the price goes down if the demand remains the same. People are also still free to plant a few seeds in their backyard mulch garden (sponsored by the Green Police). Or, like Health Care, the Federal Government could mandate that people grow their own pumpkins or pay a punitive tax for non-compliance. The simple solution: Plan ahead if you feel "threatened" by Libby's corner on the market. Or pay the actual "shocking" market value of $6 on EBay as a stupid tax for the convenience of not planning ahead. It's not like Thanksgiving is a surprise event on the calendar or that Pumpkin pie is a surprise dessert on Thanksgiving. Seriously, how many pumpkin pies do you plan to eat? Quit demonizing Libby's because they are smart enough to make a profit for their shareholders (including Democrat farmers and union retirement plans) that are invested in their company. Quit blaming them for intelligently recognizing that the demand for their product exceeds the supply: at least we get something for the money we pay them. Quit blaming the weather as some anthropomorphized vast Right-wing conspiracy. It rains occasionally. Sometimes it even rains a lot two years in a row. For you Global Warming/Climate Change conspiracy fans, invest in Libby's as a hedge investment, then spray a can of hairspray into the atmosphere every night before you go to bed. If you all work together I'm sure you can screw up the weather enough to get the EBay price to $8 a can next year and pocket a quick 33% annualized gain. Sincerely, LMAO. Thanks for keeping Pelosi in charge of the Chuckleheads. Couldn't have done it without her!

November 25 2010 at 12:24 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to outonalimn's comment
jlsntx

Hard to read, but once you wade through the copy/paste problems this comment is really good. THUMBS UP! Oh, and don't tell anyone, but I still have tomatoes producing in pots on my front porch, over 40 green ones and if I can keep them from freezing, we'll have fresh home grown tomatoes for Christmas, unless the tomato police come and confiscate them all!

November 26 2010 at 3:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Peg

Yes, I heard about the pumpkin "shortage" and found it strange that friends have a huge pumpkin/squash/gourd farm in upstate NY and wound up plowing tons of unsold crops under. There were so many left AFTER market, we were giving away truck loads of beautiful HUGE carving pumpkins, sweet pie pumpkins, Cinderellas and gourds by the crate just before Halloween. (And I just saw $6.99 Mrs. Smith's Frozen Pumpkin Pies in my grocery story on sale for $1.99 with no limit). Sounds like another gubbamint myth to me. Whose turn was it to watch Gore and his tree huggers?

November 25 2010 at 12:14 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Peg's comment
DAVE

I think it is the canned pumpkin market where Libby controls 90%. Pigs love pumpkins bu

November 25 2010 at 9:45 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply