A bumper pumpkin harvest for this year’s Halloween is under threat because of an expected shortage of the crop caused by a combination of poor August weather and lack of HGV drivers and pickers.
Farmers and wholesale vegetable suppliers are warning that a lack of sunlight and warmth last month has meant the autumn favourite is failing to ripen in the fields, while a giant-pumpkin show has been cancelled due to poor harvest.
Areas of the Midlands and southern England had between 65 and 70 per cent of the average sunshine for August, while nighttime temperatures failed to rise over 15C – one of the key conditions for allowing pumpkins to swell in size – for most of the month.
The dull chilly weather has compounded an already difficult period for the wider food production industry, with the ongoing shortage of HGV drivers and fruit and vegetable pickers hitting harvest and supply chains.
Lyburn Farm in Salisbury, one of the leading wholesale suppliers of Halloween pumpkins, has sent a message to its customers saying: “We are not taking any more orders for the 2021 season for the time being as we are over subscribed and not even running a waiting list.
“The crop is now looking good but slow to ripen due to lack of sunshine and heat, as a result they are still looking very green.
“Transport is clearly going to be another issue as will the harvesting.”
Matt Peskett, chairman of Dorking Allotment Holders’ Association, said the annual Mole Valley Squash and Pumpkin Show, scheduled for next month, has had to be cancelled due to a hugely reduced yield of pumpkins, squashes and gourds.
He said: “The number one cause has been low temperatures – cucurbits shut down when night-time temperatures fall consistently below 15C, fruits don’t germinate and any existing fruits cease to grow or ripen.
“August has seen 22 nights fall below 15C, this compared to only 10 nights in August 2020.
With Surrey having had 50 per cent more summer rain than the long-term average there has also been a major battle with slugs and around a third less sunshine for plants to bask in by day.”
Richard Simkin of Essington Farm near Wolverhampton said his crop of 30,000 pumpkin plants would not be affected by supply chain issues because he runs a pick-your-own business and sells directly to customers at the farm shop.
But he said the poor weather was still casting doubts over a bumper harvest by 31 October.
Mr Simkin added: “Our crop is looking quite good at the moment, but the crucial thing now will be if the weather gets better between now and the end of October. We are certainly not counting our our chickens at the moment.”