ORLANDO, Fla., Sept. 9 (UPI) -- U.S. pumpkin farmers see a bumper crop this year, and they report surging interest in pumpkin patches from Americans seeking safe outdoor fun amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Good growing weather in pumpkin production centers like Illinois and California has led to big, healthy crops. Farmers also say they are seeing greater retail sales, thanks to interest in baking and decorating.
"Demand for pumpkins has been excellent, and all indications are there will be continued high demand," said Bryan Van Groningen, co-owner of a 1,400-acre pumpkin farm in Manteca, Calif., about 75 miles east of San Francisco.
"People have been locked down, but Halloween is centered around children and family and the harvest, so I think it will be a return to normal in some respects."
Some retailers are boosting their orders for pumpkins, said Van Groningen, vice president of crops and soils at Van Groningen & Sons. "It's a little early -- we just had one round of harvest so far. We're still growing them out now for October," he said.
A good crop is ready for picking in Illinois, the state that produces the most pumpkins, according to the University of Illinois.
"Some of the growers told me they have the best pumpkins ever," said Mohammad Babadoost, a professor of crop sciences at the university. "Early in the season, it was very wet, but then it dried out. Pumpkins like dry conditions, although not drought."
Dry conditions also kept mildew, fungus and bacterial disease to a minimum in most regions of the state, Babadoost said.
Shoppers may find the healthy-size crops also make for good bargains, according to price data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The average price as of Friday was $5 per pumpkin, compared to a year ago at $5.47.
For canned pumpkin, the price was 99 cents per pound, down from $1.50 per pound a year ago.
The number of customers seeking the orange Halloween symbol at farms also is healthy, Babadoost said.
"All over the state, I see huge numbers of people, out with the family, and really enjoying touching the pumpkin, so I think it will be a good year for agritourism," he said.
"Because of the pandemic, people stayed home so much. Pumpkin fields are in the open air, so there is lots of demand and visits now to pumpkin patches and apple orchards."
Lots of demand is what Jodi Utsman found the moment tickets went on sale at the start of September for her family's pumpkin patch, Santa's Farm, near Eustis, Fla., about 30 miles north of Orlando.
"We were not sure how this would work, but we set up timed reservations to limit crowding," Utsman said. "We were pleased to sell tickets right away and we got plenty of calls."
Another pumpkin patch in Florida -- Hunsader's Farms in Bradenton, about 55 miles south of Tampa -- hasn't changed much of its annual Pumpkin Festival, owner David Hunsader said.
Hunsader's, which grows a few acres of its own pumpkins, plans lumberjack shows, concerts and a rodeo on three weekends in October starting Oct. 10-11.
The farm had a good crop this year, said David Hunsader, the owner.
"We have hundreds of acres here and people are always very spread out," he said. "I think people are sick of this pandemic and ready to come outside."