August 30, 2005

Pumpkin field day set for Sept. 8

by K.C. Jaehnig


Caption follows story

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Farmers thinking about growing jack-o-lanterns for fun and (they hope) profit could benifit from horticulturist S. Alan Walters' talk on production economics at a pumpkin field day set for 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 8, at Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Belleville Research Center on State Route 161.

"I'll be focusing on what you can expect in terms of revenue generated if you put out an acre of pumpkins," he said.

"I'll have a worksheet, but it's just a guideline, because unlike corn and soybeans, which are subsidized, you can't lock prices in. You sell for the current price at a given time."

It may come as a surprise to those who think of Illinois as all corn and beans, but the state leads the nation in pumping out pumpkins.

"The climate's right, and a lot of row crop farmers like a crop that can follow wheat late in the growing season, such as jack-o-lantern pumpkins," Walters said.

"Illinois leads in processed pumpkins, too. When you buy a can of pumpkin mix, it's probably grown and packed in Illinois."

Walters is focusing on jack-o-lantern production at the field day because farmers who raise pumpkins for processors generally have contracts that spell out how much money they will make.

"Average yield is about 10 to 15 tons per acre, unless it's a dry year, and jack-o-lanterns usually run about 8 to 12 cents a pound wholesale, which is how most of the farmers in the state sell their crop," Walters said.

"If you sell retail — directly to the customer with no middle man at all — you can make about 30 cents per pound, and you eliminate some of the wholesale costs, such as boxes and pallets. I know guys who grow pumpkins on three to four acres who have their own market — they can make about $30,000 per season just on pumpkins."

Walters' worksheet shows at a glance what a grower would get for pumpkins on an acre of ground yielding 10, 12, 15, 18 and 20 tons at 8, 12 and 30 cents per pound.

Then he lists, as an example, what a grower should expect to spend on seed, fertilizer, lime, bee hive rental (for pollination), pesticides, harvest labor, fuel, repairs, boxes and pallets — all variable costs.

"Variable costs can change depending on the cultivar you grow, the fertilizer program you use, the pesticides and so forth," Walters said.

"Fuel and oil costs may go up, and the higher your yield, the more labor, boxes and pallets you need."

He jots down fixed costs, too — for things like operator expenses for services such as driving a tractor, depreciation, taxes and insurance.

"This worksheet will let you see that if you got low yields and only 8 cents per pound, you're only bringing in $1,600, but you have costs of nearly $1,800 — you're losing money," Walters said.

"But if you got 20 tons per acre, even at 8 cents a pound, you'd have $3,200. With those same (fixed and variable) costs (of nearly $1,800), you'd start making money."

In addition to Walters' presentation on economics, researchers and extension agents from SIUC and the University of Illinois will give talks on weed and insect control, disease management and other topics that new and prospective farmers need to know about before setting out a pumpkin patch.

"Growing pumpkins involves more than just throwing out seed and watching it grow," Walters said.

"But before you even stick a seed in the soil, I'd made sure that you know someone somewhere is going to buy your crop."

Serving others is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.

(Caption: Fruitful research — Former Southern Illinois University Carbondale graduate student Mark F. Rundel shows off last year’s pumpkin crop grown at the campus’ Horticultural Research Center. SIUC will hold its first pumpkin field day Sept. 8 at its Belleville Research Center.)