For some Mississippi pumpkin growers, the real profits are found in creative marketing efforts, not just growing a good crop. This year was Marshall Estes' first attempt at growing pumpkins on his family farm in Grenada County. His couple of acres may not make a major economic impact in the state's economy, but the sentiment behind it speaks volumes.
“We (including his wife and children) have been having fun with it,” Estes said. “We've had teachers expressing a lot of interest in the small pumpkins and other people asking for similar fall decorations.”
In addition to pumpkins, Estes sells square hay bales, corn stalks and whole corn ears. A recent trip to the Farmer's Market in Jackson, Miss., yielded more ideas for next year.
Estes said the downside for Grenada County growers is they cannot get the same prices locally as growers do at the Jackson market, but that's good news for the local buyers.
“I plan to double my pumpkin crop and grow several different varieties next year. I want to add Indian corn, ornamental gourds and birdhouse gourds, then start hosting school groups,” Estes said. “I think one crop will help sell the other.”
Ralph Hanskiewicz of New Albany, Miss., has been in the agricultural tourism business since the mid-1990s. Originally, he started growing strawberries on his farm in 1980 to supplement his income. He added pumpkins in 1993 and started offering school tours in 1996 for preschool through third grade age groups.
“There are ways to make money in ag tourism. You have to have several activities and offer them in more than one season,” Hanskiewicz said. “This is a fun business.”
This year, Hanskiewicz is working with the state prison at Parchman, Miss., for his supply of pumpkins instead of growing his own. In exchange for growing his pumpkins, Hanskiewicz worked as a consultant for the Parchman crop, 100 miles from his home. Parchman harvested 250,000 to 300,000 pounds of pumpkins on 18 acres.
David Nagel, horticulture specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said unlike last year, excess rains made 2001 a challenging season.
“High temperatures in early August followed by rains led to poor pollination for several growers, especially in the Delta and south central Mississippi,” he said. “Rains prevent honeybees from flying and pollinating the crop.”
Nagel said some portions of the state yielded very well and others very poorly, but there were no total crop failures.
“We have several growers with smaller numbers of pumpkins and with a later-maturing crop, which is also a problem. Pumpkins are not worth much on Nov. 1,” Nagel said.
Linda Breazeale writes for MSU Ag Communications.