Fewer, Pricier Pumpkins this Halloween? Better Shop Early!

Written by Sarene Marshall on . Posted in Act, Learn

With Halloween just a few weeks away, my daughters are contemplating their costumes for this year’s trick-or-treat adventure. One is envisioning herself as Princess Belle, while the other is still keeping her options open.

Along with decking the house in cobwebs and pulling out our scary music soundtrack for Halloween night, we’re headed to the mountains this weekend for another one of our fall traditions – apple and pumpkin picking! And it’s not a moment too soon for the latter, since the wild weather of 2011 has made finding the best pumpkins for jack o’lanterns a slightly tougher task this year.

Simply put, we’ve had too much rain in some places, and not enough in others. While Texas suffered from unprecedented drought, heavy rains left some Northeast pumpkin patches so soggy that the fruits rotted on the vines. Bottom line: the longer you wait to get your perfect jack-o-lantern-worthy pumpkin, the higher the price and slimmer the pickins may be.

In Texas, growers report that pumpkin production has been cut nearly in half due to the extended heat wave and drought of recent months – summer 2011 was marked by 40 straight days of triple-digit temperatures in Dallas, and a lack of rainfall that caused exceptional drought in the state. So, yield is down and costs are up, as one Texas farmer told a local news crew. From Texas to Virginia to Pennsylvania, prices have risen anywhere from 10 to 75 percent, and those increases will hit farmers, consumers, and farm stand owners.

Some areas of the country that did not get deluged have had a good crop, but produce from healthy harvests in Tennessee and the Midwest’s top pumpkin producing states, like Ohio and Illinois, may be traveling further to find a home, and that transportation adds cost – not to mention pollution.

The effects of weird weather on our seasonal holiday traditions are likely to be more than a one-year event. With increasing carbon pollution in the atmosphere disrupting normal temperature and precipitation patterns, scientists say we can expect more “extreme” weather events — those outside of the average range — in the form of storms, floods and droughts like we’ve seen recently.

Farmers have always had to deal with weather fluctuations. But temperature and precipitation have such profound effects on what can be grown and where, we are likely to see growing seasons – and even the best growing locations for certain crops – to shift in a generally warmer future. And excessive periods of rain and/or prolonged heat can be exceptionally costly because they are too hard to adjust to.

A recent study co-authored by The Nature Conservancy’s lead climate scientist, for example, found that a reduction in cold temperatures could affect yields of apples, cherries, peaches and almonds in prime fruit and nut growing regions, such as California’s Sacramento Valley, the Southeastern U.S. and Chile’s Valle Central.

And pumpkins aren’t the only fall harvest affected by recent weather events. We may also see higher prices for our favorite bottles of wine in months to come. There is early word from California’s wine industry that a spring freeze and heavy rains are leading to a late and somewhat light harvest that could create a shortage of grapes for the wine industry. A University of California-Davis professor reported a 20-30 percent drop in the harvest of some grape varietals.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint the connection between a single weather event and the changing global climate, rising temperatures by the end of the century could significantly reduce the areas of premium wine growing regions in the U.S. by up to 81 percent according to a 2006 study.

What can we do? Keep urging our leaders to plan for our future and protect our national traditions and food supply by reducing carbon pollution. And take steps ourselves to reduce our carbon footprints, including support of local farmers where we can. I’ll be doing my share this weekend!

Sarene Marshall is director of The Nature Conservancy’s Global Climate Change Program

Photo by: Flickr user chtyson (Flooded pumpkin patch in upstate New York, September 10, 2011) Used under a Creative Commons license.

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Planet Change is a Nature Conservancy blog site designed to share stories about actions the Conservancy and others around the world are taking to fight carbon pollution and the impacts of climate change, and to help people feel the connections between climate change and their daily lives and understand actions they can take.

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