NEW YORK — Northeastern states are facing a jack-o’-lantern shortage this Halloween after Hurricane Irene destroyed hundreds of pumpkin patches across the region, farmers say.
Wholesale prices have doubled in some places as farmers nurse their surviving pumpkin plants toward a late harvest. Some farmers are trying to buy pumpkins from other regions to cover orders.
Many area farms have fared well through the wet weather while some Northeastern states face a pumpkin shortage.
“I think there’s going to be an extreme shortage of pumpkins this year,” said Darcy Pray, owner of Pray’s Family Farms in Keeseville, in upstate New York. “I’ve tried buying from people down in the Pennsylvania area, I’ve tried locally here and I’ve tried reaching across the border to some farmers over in the Quebec area. There’s just none around.”
Hurricane Irene raked the Northeast in late August, bringing torrents of rain that overflowed rivers and flooded fields along the East Coast and into southern Canada. Pray saw his entire crop, about 15,000 to 20,000 pumpkins, washed into Lake Champlain.
But pumpkin farmers had been having a difficult year even before the storm. Heavy rains this spring meant many farms had to postpone planting for two or three weeks, setting back the fall harvest, said Jim Murray, owner of the Applejacks Orchard in Peru, N.Y.
A late harvest can be fatal to business because pumpkin sales plummet after Halloween on Oct. 31. Wholesalers need to get pumpkins on their way to stores by mid-September.
Another spate of rain about two weeks before Irene caused outbreaks of the phytophthora fungus —a type of water mold — in many fields, said Jim Stakey, owner of Stakey’s Pumpkin Farm in Aquebogue, on New York’s Long Island.
Sugar for March delivery closed at 28.45 cents per pound on Monday — a little off its above-30-cent peak struck last month, but still double its May 2010 low.
And it looks like sugar may have higher to climb.
Global supplies of sugar are projected to lag worldwide demand this year for the third year running. According to a new report by Czarnikow Group, a London-based sugar and biofuel broker, the supply/demand deficit could run as high as 2.8 million metric tons from September 2010 to September 2011.
Of course, when you consider that total supply for 2010/11 is expected to rise to 168.4 million tons from last year’s 157.4 million, that deficit doesn’t seem like a huge gap. And generally, if sugar becomes too expensive to use, end-consumers can just switch to cheaper sweeteners, like corn-based syrups.
Still, one can make the argument that sugar should be higher, especially considering that growing consumption is expected in emerging markets like China, where we’ve yet to hit the limit of their commodity appetite. Plus, over the past few years, we’ve seen drawdowns in world inventories of the sweet stuff, a fact that helped boost prices up to ever-higher highs in 2007/08 and 2008/09.
The supply shortfall springs from poor growing weather we saw earlier this year. Remember that Brazilian bumper crop we talked about back in August? Yeah, not so much. Brazil, the world’s largest producer of sugar, saw sugar cane production declines from a hotter summer than usual, while similar drought conditions stunted Russian beet production and South African cane yields. Meanwhile, in Indonesia and Australia, the sugar cane harvest withered under a deluge of super-wet weather.