Pumpkin shortage won't affect Halloween, but will there be pie?

After heavy rainfall in the pumpkin capital of Illinois washed away a portion of crops, farmers and distributors fear there could be a serious canned pumpkin shortage this fall. 

Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press/AP
Cody Long, 3, pulls a wagon of pumpkins to check-out at the Weaver Tree Farm lot on Signal Mountain Road in Chattanooga, Tenn., on Monday. There should be enough pumpkins for Halloween this year, but that might not be the case for the canned pumpkin used in pies come Thanksgiving, according to crop experts in Illinois.

The wettest June on record has cut pumpkin yields in Illinois by half, and crop experts warn there might not be enough canned pumpkin to go around.

The state of Illinois yields 90 percent of the country’s canned pumpkin, with the majority located in Morton, the “pumpkin capital of the world,” 160 miles south of Chicago. Libby, the largest canned-pumpkin manufacturer in the US, says their can distribution will likely be cut by a third.

“It would be wise to buy it for Thanksgiving now,” said Roz O’Hearn, a spokeswoman for Libby told the Associated Press. “Once we ship the remainder of the 2015 harvest, we’ll have no more Libby’s pumpkin to sell until harvest 2016.”

According to the State Climatologist Office for Illinois, the state’s average precipitation in June was 9.43 inches, 5.33 inches above average.

“Some of what we put in just got drowned out,” Morton pumpkin farmer John Ackerman told Reuters. “Pumpkins don’t like to have their feet wet.”

The last of Libby’s canned pumpkins are expected to hit stores in early November.

“I would not wait until Nov. 20,” University of Illinois professor Mohammad Babadoost warned, referring to Thanksgiving on Nov. 26. “I’d buy it whenever it comes to the store.”

Costco alone sells over one million pumpkin pies the week of Thanksgiving.

Ms. O’Hearn referred to 2009 as another tough pumpkin year because of heavy rainfall. She said people responded by buying canned pumpkin “aggressively” that fall and the last cans were auctioned off online for high prices later in the season.

Mr. Ackerman says he has been farming pumpkins for over thirty years and he has never seen a crop this devastated. “I’m hoping I don’t have another one,” he said.

Pumpkin pie lovers are looking to the state of Nebraska to save their favorite dish. Pumpkin farmers in the western state did lose some of their crops to heavy rainfall, but in some parts of Nebraska, farmers say the right amount of rainfall and warm temperatures actually increased crop growth, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln reports. 

It is important to note that jack-o-lantern pumpkins are different from pie pumpkins, and farmers say the crop of ornamental pumpkins was not as badly affected. 

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) declared pumpkin pie the official state pie in April, after a 108-3 vote in the House. Obviously, three members favored the sweet potato and blueberry competitors.   

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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