Jon Barfoot, Barfoots

"UK: "Pumpkin yields will be about 50% of planned crop"

It has been an early growing start to the pumpkin season in the UK. Jon Barfoot, Commercial Director at Barfoots said there are lots of bigger-sized pumpkins coming through, but the wettest August in Met Office history has meant that those self-same fruits have spent the last month sitting about on heavy and wet soil.

"Quality issues are now setting in and rot's progressing. Retailers don’t take any fruits with minor blemishes or soft-spots as these progress into full-blown issues in the depot networks and in the ambient temperature of stores, where they metamorphose into pumpkin soup. Yields will be about 50% of the originally planned crop," explains Barfoot.

He goes on to say that until August the growing conditions were near perfect. "If only Halloween was 6 weeks earlier….they are ticking time-bombs."

Pumpkins are generally grown for Halloween and taste is irrelevant for a carving pumpkin. Even the Americans don’t eat these types – which have a bigger internal seed cavity and less flesh to make the actual carving of them easier. Instead they will use sweet eating squashes such as Butternut and Crown Prince for their revered culinary emblem, the American pumpkin pie.

"Carving varieties are bland and insipid tasting in comparison and they vary in size and skin finish; some have deep and thick ridges, some are as smooth as a football and can be any colour desired (black, white, purple, warty) and not just orange. It all depends on what size you are looking to produce and for what market. The biggest variety is the Atlantic Giant, but it’s so heavy (approx. 50-500kgs) that it loses its shape and collapses - so won’t do for carving. We use Harvest Moon and Racer for our southerly climate and soil type, producing a 3-8kg round-shaped pumpkin with a solid green stem handle,' according to Barfoot.

'Fitness fanatic' Beccs pictured here re harvesting. According to Barfoot she’s always in the thick of it and wanted to be involved with the pumpkin harvest to make sure her customer programs were well looked after, (her main customer is ASDA).

"On the supply-side, pumpkins are very labour intensive to grade and are expensive to transport. Last year’s crop was a complete disaster so the mood in the market for predatory pricing this year has been low said Barfoot. "On the selling-side, retailers strategically price pumpkins to drive footfall into the lucrative GM Halloween festive aisles (costumes, masks, paraphernalia, party food/drink etc), as without Pumpkins there isn’t really a Halloween event."

Compared with recent years there will be a lot of grading-out to create the appropriate quality level. Berfoots will be feeding thier bio-digester the ‘soup’!

The pumpkin season is pretty much over after Halloween as, "There are no prizes for holding any stock on the 32nd of October."

Barfoot explains that the most challenging aspects of pumpkin production in the UK are when the quality is poor, the extra costs of grading and waste are a serious concern for producers. The indirect costs of replacing lorry loads of rejected pumpkins are also a high cost to a supplier.

Being a time-limited seasonal event, there is very little ROI in investing in automation and bespoke storage for pumpkins as the cost would outweigh the benefit. "Agronomy and varietals is where I think the biggest advances can be made, ensuring that the pumpkins can stay rot-free (after they finish growing), until the final fortnight before Halloween…improving yields and reducing waste, minimising the indirect cost of managing quality service levels."

The UK market trend follows the USA, as Halloween has become the 2nd major festive event after Xmas. The US market is worth an estimated $180m USD at farmgate vs the British at around £6m. Given that there are 300m consumers in the USA and 65m in the UK, there is a long way to go to get to that level of consumer spend in the UK, which would indicate a pro-rata market opportunity of approximately £18m on pumpkins!

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