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Revised August 2021.
Pumpkins belong to the Cucurbita genus, along with cucumbers, melons, and squash. However, the term “pumpkin” refers to members of four different species, C. moschata, C. mixta, C. pep, and C. maxima. Pumpkins range in size from less than one pound to more than 1,000 pounds. Miniature-sized pumpkins weigh less than one pound, are marketed fresh and typically are used for decorative purposes. Pie pumpkins range in many sizes, however, the 5- to 10-pound pie pumpkins are most often grown. Pumpkins in the 10- to 25-pound range are primarily used for fall decorations, carved into jack-o-lanterns, but can also be used for processing. Pumpkins above 25 pounds are called giant. Giant pumpkins typically range between 25 to 1,000 pounds in size. The potential size is determined by the variety grown and growing conditions.
Pumpkin is a nutrient-dense crop; a cup of cooked pumpkin provides more than 200 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A, 20 percent of the recommended vitamin C and more potassium than a banana. Another pumpkin product, roasted and salted pumpkin seeds and hulled kernels, known as pepitas, are becoming a popular and nutritious snack item. Much like squash blossoms, pumpkin blossoms can also be stuffed and eaten. Even the leaves of pumpkins can be cooked and eaten. The U.S. annual per capita use of pumpkin was 6.44 pounds per person in 2020.
The U.S. pumpkin market is regarded as limited and seasonal. Pumpkins are grown for processing and fresh for ornamental sales through you-pick farms, farmers’ markets and retail sales. Libby’s (owned by Nestlé Company) have almost 90 percent of the North American market for canned pumpkin with 90 percent of it sold in only 4 months, from October to January. The USDA Economic Research Service reports that the demand for fresh specialty pumpkins continues to expand as consumers look for new and interesting variations. Also, according to Nielsen, the total sales of pumpkin-flavored food, beverages, personal and household goods in supermarkets and convenience stores across the U.S. increased almost 80 percent between 2011 and 2015. Sales of those items totaled more than $360 million in 2015. Additionally, the pumpkin spice industrial complex in 2018 is a more-than $600 million market, up from $500 million three years ago.
According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, nearly 66,200 acres of pumpkins were harvested in the U.S. in 2020, producing more than 1.5 billion pounds of usable pumpkins with more than 2 billion produced overall. The top nine states together (Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana, Michigan, California, Ohio, North Carolina, and Texas) produced nearly 75% of that. Approximately 15 percent of the pumpkin acreage is used to make processed pumpkin products. Illinois remains the leading processed pumpkin producing state, producing more than the other 5 leading states combined and about half of the national total. Pumpkin varieties for commercial canning are all Cucurbita. moschata, a tan-colored (rather than orange), firm-fleshed, and elongated fruit. The most common variety used for processed pumpkin is Libby’s Select Dickinson, In 2020, the average pumpkin yield per acre among the top six states was 23,300 pounds and ranged considerably from 5,040 to 39,760 pounds.
Retail prices for all pumpkin varieties in 2020, on average, were up slightly from in 2019. The value of the utilized production of pumpkins in 2020 is estimated at $180.3 million with the average US farm price for pumpkins approximately 8 cents per pound. Based on the average price per pound and average yield per acre, the estimated “average” gross was $1,928 per acre.
Sources and References
Nutritive Value of Foods (USDA ARS, 2002)
Organic Pumpkin and Winter Squash Marketing and Production (ATTRA, 2010)
Pumpkin Statistics (USDA ERS, 2018)
USDA Quick Stats (USDA NASS, 2018)
Vegetables Annual Summary ( USDA NASS, 2021)
Links checked August 2021.