RICHMOND—A fall favorite has made it onto the list of Virginia’s top 20 agriculture commodities.
Pumpkins have moved into Virginia’s top 20 list after pumpkin sales reached an estimated $11 million in 2018, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service. Wholesale pumpkins generated $10.3 million, and the agency estimated that factoring in sales of pick-your-own pumpkins would boost the total to $11 million.
“It’s another way to make a few extra dollars and pay your bills,” said Danny Cassell, a Montgomery County farmer and president of the Virginia Pumpkin Growers Association. “We raise anywhere from 28 to 38 acres of pumpkins a year. It’s a full-time job; you’re always spraying or checking for bugs or talking to customers or something. It started out as a hobby for me, but it turned into a business.”
In past years, many wholesale pumpkins were shipped to Virginia from Pennsylvania and the Midwest, but Virginia growers are catching up. In 2018 commercial pumpkins were grown on 3,500 acres of Virginia farmland.
Growers typically sell to grocery stores or offer pick-your-own pumpkins. Cassell sells pumpkins to 19 Walmart Inc. stores each fall.
More pumpkins are grown in Southwest Virginia than anywhere else in the state, but Cassell said there are pumpkin growers everywhere.
Jay Yankey, owner of Yankey Farms in Prince William County, said that, with significant population growth throughout the state, “there’s a pretty good group of customers available and interested in the fall harvest experience, which means there’s a good pick-your-own market almost everywhere.”
He added that pumpkins can be expensive to grow. “When I wholesale them, I don’t make a lot of money. There’s a lot of hand labor involved in planting and harvesting them,” Yankey explained. “So I just grow enough to cover my retail needs. I anticipated planting enough to cover 10 to 15 acres every year. If I have a good year I have enough to wholesale the extras.”
He said it’s been a pretty good growing season. “We don’t plant until mid-June. And most of our pumpkins haven’t had but a few inches of rain on them all season. We were actually pretty dry, but I have the ability to irrigate my crop and put just the right amount of water on when they needed it.”
Media: Contact Cassell at 540-320-4093, Yankey at 703-618-3782, or Norm Hyde
, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1146.