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 4.6 pounds per person in 2016.
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.
According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, nearly 67,000 acres of pumpkins were harvested in the US in 2016, producing 16 million pounds of pumpkins. The top six states together (Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and California) produced approximately half of them. 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 2016 the average pumpkin yield per acre among the top six states was 24,100 pounds and ranged considerably from 11,100 to 38,900 pounds.
Retail prices for all pumpkin varieties in 2016, on average, were down slightly from in 2015. The value of the utilized production of pumpkins in 2016 is estimated at $207.6 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)
Revised March, 2019.