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The price of your jack-o'-lantern may be another victim of the Texas drought

A single pumpkin on the ground
Gabriel C. Pérez
/
KUT
Growers in Texas say there are much fewer pumpkins this year because of the drought.

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This year's hot, dry weather has wreaked havoc on Texas agriculture, and the state's pumpkin crop has not been spared. Farmers and agricultural experts say that drop in supply has translated into higher prices for pumpkins popular for display and jack-o'-lantern carving this fall.

"We didn't have not even half as many pumpkins on the vine as we should have [this year]," pumpkin farmer Chris Hacker told KUT. “They're not turning out as good as previous years.”

Hacker grows pumpkins on 150 acres in Knox County, between Dallas and Lubbock. He says his crop relies on irrigated water to thrive. But even with that supply, the extreme heat stopped pumpkins from growing.

Pumpkin flowers, he said, become difficult for insects to pollinate in extreme heat, so fewer of them grow into the beloved seasonal gourds.

"The pollen just wasn't working the way it should,” Hacker said. “If you have too many days over 95 degrees consistently, then the pollen just goes stale. No matter how many bees you got out in the field working, it just doesn’t work."

In Floyd County, the state’s top-pumpkin growing region, growers have also reported below average yields, according to the Texas Agrilife Crop and Weather Report.

"This year was a lot like 2011 in that we were starting to get 100 degree days early in May ... and we had them all summer," Jerry Coplen, an AgriLife Extension agent in Knox County, said.

Texas is not a big pumpkin producer compared to some other states. According to the Agrilife report, Illinois produces 90% of the nation's pumpkin harvest, if you include pumpkins grown for food.

But when it comes to specialty "ornamental" pumpkins used for seasonal display, the drop in local or statewide production can still impact prices, Coplen said.

"Just looking around in the stores, plus the price that we're getting on what little we do have, is about 30-35% higher than it was last year," said Hacker, who sells some of his harvest to big grocery chains.

"I do know this tri-state area [Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma], we're all having the same issue," he said.

The extreme heat and drought that has plagued farmers this year will only become more common as the Earth’s atmosphere continues to warm because of greenhouse gas emissions.

According to a report authored by the state climatologist last year, Texas can expect the average number of triple-digit days to double by the 2036.

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Mose Buchele focuses on energy and environmental reporting at KUT. Got a tip? Email him at mbuchele@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.
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