How Processing Pumpkins Are Grown
Did you know that Illinois is the largest producer of processing pumpkins in the United States? Illinois produces between 90% and 95% of the country’s processing pumpkins annually—which means that out of the nearly 500 million pounds grown in the US, 450 to 475 million are produced in just one state.
Why is Illinois the processing pumpkin capital of the US? It’s because pumpkins are a bit picky about where and how they are grown. Pumpkins prefer fertile, sandy soil, which is readily available in Illinois. Additionally, pumpkin seeds will only germinate (begin to grow) in warm soil. In Illinois, planting pumpkins near the end of April through early June is the perfect way to ensure your pumpkins are ready before fall.
To grow pumpkins for pumpkin pie and other tasty treats, the soil is tested for composition and any potentially harmful chemicals. Once the soil is confirmed to be adequate, the planting process isn’t very different from corn or soybeans. Farmers can use the same row crop planters, but with different plates specific for pumpkin seed.
To successfully raise pumpkins, weed and water control is a must. Most fields will have irrigation equipment, because pumpkins require a lot of water, but it is important to promote drainage due to the sandy soil. Having well-drained soil keeps pumpkins from sitting in water or on damp ground, which can cause disease and rot. Weeds are controlled with cultivation or light tilling.
Pumpkins’ growing season is anywhere from 75 to 100 days; the pumpkins featured in our video were planted April 22nd, and harvest began August 8th. The farmer begins harvest by windrowing the pumpkins. Using specialized machinery, the pumpkins are detached from the vines and rolled into long straight rows throughout the field.
Next, the pumpkins are mechanically picked up from the field using equipment created and designed specifically for this task. These machines cannot be bought from your local implement dealer. Generally, farmers do not own this type of equipment themselves; instead, harvest is included and provided by the processor through the grower’s contract.
As the pumpkins are picked off the ground, they are loaded into a dump wagon. The drivers of the dump wagons then unload them into a semi-trailer for delivery to the processing plant. From there, the pumpkins are cleaned, chopped and mashed, and canned. Check out this video which explains the steps in detail—it takes less than 6 hours to process these pumpkins and fit them in a can!
AgriSompo North America is proud to insure many of the pumpkins that are grown in this way. The FCIC offers an Actual Production History (APH) plan for pumpkins, with coverage levels available from 65% to 90%. The sales closing date is March 15th.
To learn more about crop insurance coverage for processing pumpkins, visit the RMA’s commodity page.