British Columbia

Uneven B.C. pumpkin crop leaves some scrambling for jack-o'-lanterns

An uneven pumpkin crop across B.C. has created a boon for some pumpkin producers but left others scrambling for jack-o'-lanterns.

'It’s been a really, really bad pumpkin harvest,' says candy walk organizer forced to make milk-jug lanterns

Pumpkins can be used to feed many people even after serving their purpose for Halloween, which is what 'Great Pumpkin Rescue' by Future Oxford aims to do. (Yvette Brend/CBC)

Every year pumpkins are donated to the Halloween Coombs Candy Walk.

It's half-century-old tradition.

But this year, finding pumpkins was no cake walk. The supplier in Errington, B.C., was short — with only half the pumpkins expected on the vine.

"There were no pumpkins. Our supplier said it's been a really, really bad pumpkin harvest," said five-year candy walk organizer Jennah Stavroff.

So she had to buy pumpkins from a wholesaler — and make milk-jug ghost lanterns to make up the shortfall.

Plastic milk jug lanterns are standing in for glowing pumpkins tonight at the Coombs Candy walk, due to a shortage of pumpkins. (Jenna Stavroff)

An uneven pumpkin crop across B.C. has created a boon for some pumpkin producers but left others scrambling.

Pumpkin sellers say some crops flourished, while others — especially in the Fraser Valley and on Vancouver Island — struggled.

Some plants failed to produce fruit. Other pumpkins rotted in the field or rotted fast once harvested.

No one is sure why, but it's suspected weird weather and smoky summer conditions weakened the plants.

Pumpkin supply and demand

This left suppliers out of stock — many as of last week — and some pumpkin patch owners buying stock from larger farms or competitors.

"It's been a struggle," said Elaine Robson, whose 2,800 plants at Silver Meadows Farm produced half the fruit compared to last year's yield. 

That demand meant profit for the pumpkin growers who were able to get a healthy pumpkin to the finish line — which is the last week of October. 

Across Canada, farmers sell more than 80,000 tonnes of pumpkins a year, according to Statistics Canada.

It's a $28-million business across Canada, with pumpkins earning growers in B.C. $6 million in 2017.

Aaron Leveille loads jack-o-lanterns onto his truck to decorate the 2017 Coombs Candy Walk. (Jennah Stavroff)

Laurie Gray sells hundreds of thousands of pumpkins for B.C. Fresh to national chain grocery stores and has for eight years.

"For us, it was a great year. We shipped more pumpkins this year than any year, but we ran out last Thursday," she said.

While her Delta, B.C., growers cashed in, that boon didn't trickle down to all growers.

Gray's largest supplier had a record crop, but an Okanagan grower lost three-quarters of its pumpkins due to decay around the stem, she said.

'Crazy weather'

Gray and other growers suspect plants struggled in some spots due to unusual weather — wet in the summer, then smoky followed by a prolonged period of searing heat.

Finding the perfect pumpkin to carve might be a little tougher this year as some farms come up short. (Yvette Brend/CBC )

She said even on high-yield fields, germination was uneven with robust orange fruit on one plant, next to another that's still green and ended up left in the field.

There were quality issues, especially in fields in the Fraser Valley and on Vancouver Island.

"I just think this crazy weather … there definitely were fields that were affected by quality," said Gray.

"Some [pumpkins] they look good, but there's one little decay area and they go fast."

And others were left green in the field — despite the fact Gray says she could have easily sold them — as even 227 kilogram (500-pound) giant pumpkins flew out the barn door this season. 

Some pumpkin growers were plagued by plants that didn't sprout pumpkins or rotted once picked this season. (Yvette Brend/CBC)


Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist.


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