AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – Whether families pick them up at local farms for Halloween crafts or from the supermarket for a range of decorative and culinary endeavors, pumpkin season is in full swing in Texas. However, according to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, pumpkin producers in the state saw their second subpar season in a row, leaving fewer available to meet high demands.
Generally, in 2022, it appeared that Texas gourds offered not only a well-rounded shape but also a fairly well-rounded glimpse into broader agricultural conditions.
Drought, producers, and pollination
Mark Carroll, a Floyd County AgriLife Extension agent, said in the latest AgriLife report that drought conditions contributed to below-average yields in 2022. However, a number of fields still performed better than in 2021, when too much rain led to yields 30% below average.
“We had virtually no rainfall this summer, so the crop relied entirely on irrigation,” said Carroll, on the 2022 yield, “Getting the crop well established was an issue, but by July most fields looked good because pumpkins do really well in the heat.”
Altogether, though, Carroll said that producers reported a mixed bag of results because of the drought. Some producers who had plenty of irrigation capacity saw increased production compared to 2021 by around 10% to 20%, while others reported nearly 10% less yield.
AgriLife experts explained that producers usually plant pumpkins between early May and June, depending on when they aim to harvest. Those wanting to have pumpkins ready for wholesale markets around the state and country aim to harvest in early September, while direct-to-consumer demand harvests usually aim to begin in late September.
Most of Texas’ few thousand acres of pumpkins are at home in Floyd County around Floydada, which rests between Lubbock and Amarillo just south of Plainview. Despite pumpkins representing only a small amount of Texas acreage for crops, AgriLife noted that Floydada is famous for its pumpkins. Further, a number of Texas pumpkin producers sell directly to consumers at seasonal destinations like Maxwell’s Pumpkin Farm or Leonard Farms in Amarillo and Canyon.
While producers such as Cris Hacker in Knox County reported to AgriLife that demand and prices have been better than ever, production has seen a significant hit in the last few years. Hacker noted that his own crop yield was about half of what it should have been and that last year it was down about 40% in comparison to average seasons. Crop emergence was an issue for a significant amount of Hacker’s acres this year, he said, with only about 20% of the pumpkins planted a few weeks after Memorial Day emerging even with irrigation.
Another issue, Hacker pointed out, was pollination. There was a much lower bee presence over the 2022 season, said Hacker, and temperatures during peak pollination times were broiling in the triple digits. AgriLife noted that high temperatures, past around the mid-90-degree mark, begin to degrade pollen viability and that bees are generally less active in extreme heat.
“The plants looked better than ever, healthy and full, but did not put on any fruit,” he said. “There were nowhere near as many bees compared to last year, and I noticed neighbors with irrigated cotton had a similar issue – good-looking plants that were not putting on bolls.”
It’s been disappointing to Hacker and other producers, he said, especially given the good market conditions.
“The price is the best it’s ever been, and the demand is incredible,” Hacker said. “Buyers call every day begging for pumpkins because it looks like most everyone’s production is down this season.”
The Texas Panhandle and High Plains were split up into three areas by AgriLife for its crop condition reports: The Panhandle, the South Plains to the southwest, and the Rolling Plains to the southeast.
According to AgriLife Extension reporter summaries, weather conditions in the Panhandle remained unseasonably warm throughout 2022 and moisture levels were “extremely low.” While planting and harvesting continued for wheat, cotton, and corn, most planted acres were intended for grazing. Grain sorghum was coloring over the season and silage trucks were active, and many producers were preparing to apply harvest aids. Generally, the rangeland and pasture conditions were “very poor to poor.”
South Plains conditions
While some cotton was harvested as well as some cucumbers, corn, and sorghum sillage was being cut, and pastures were being grazed or baled for hay, weather conditions were similar to the Panhandle. Armyworms were reported by the AgriLife summaries in the wheat fields and a few irrigation pivots were running on winter wheat, as “very dry” weather conditions continued.
Rolling Plains conditions
Pastures were dried up and hay supplies were dwindling in the warm, dry weather, according to AgriLife reports. Rangelands were drying down after growth that came after heavy August rains, and hay prices continued to rise to the point of livestock producers being forced “to make crucial decisions.” Cotton conditions worsened and fields were dotted with armyworms and flea hoppers. Further armyworm numbers “were beyond thresholds” in wheat fields, and many producers were delaying planting wheat in hopes of better moisture and pest conditions.
Neither a trick, treat, nor a surprise
The AgriLife crop and weather report from the beginning of October didn’t appear to be much of a surprise. The Texas drought conditions of 2022 were dire enough in Texas by April, as noted in previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, that agricultural experts and producers were already pessimistic about crop yields for the year. As J.D. Ragland with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service said at the time, producers may have considered cutting down their acres by half.
Even in April 2022, KAMR Local 4 Chief Meteorologist John Harris said that it had been one of the longest periods of time without significant rainfall in 30 years. There was little sign of improvement in the coming months, and Texas surpassed decade-long records by the time any relief came in August. Even after an eight-week reprieve, the majority of the High Plains was still considered to be under moderate or severe drought conditions at the end of September.
As the Texas Water Development Board’s “Water Weekly” reports have noted, as well as the National Weather Service, continued La Niña conditions are expected to keep the majority of Texas in drought conditions – and even increase them again – throughout the fall and winter.
Now, headed toward the end of 2022 and into next year, the High Plains are seeing the fruits, or lack thereof, of agricultural labor embattled by harsh weather conditions and decreasing water availability. Although water managers, regulatory groups, legislators, and others have continued to work on gathering data and strategizing to ensure water access and quality across Texas, the day-to-day impact of environmental and industrial factors is reflected in the struggles of agricultural producers and consumers. Fewer profits, fewer resources, harsher conditions, and higher resulting prices at every stage of production – from feeding cattle or planting seeds to buying groceries – have presented people across the High Plains, and much of the country, with additional struggles to manage into the foreseeable future.
Water databases, resources, and current water news and developments can be found on the Texas Groundwater Conservation District website, the Texas Alliance of Groundwater Districts website, the Texas Water Development Board website, and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension website.