With the impending loss of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), farmers are inevitably exploring a range of diversification options to help ensure their business remains viable.
Reductions in BPS payments are now in their third year and the scheme will end completely in 2027. As a result, we are seeing big demand for advice and guidance on a wide range of alternative uses and projects on farms across the country.
One of the diversification projects that is rising in popularity is growing pumpkins. But, what are the implications of diversifying into growing pumpkins for the farmer? Is pumpkin growing profitable? How do you start a pumpkin patch business? And, what do you need to know about pumpkin picking?
In this blog we explore the key considerations for starting your pumpkin picking business and how you can grow a pumpkin patch for profit.
Pumpkin patch business
In recent years pumpkin picking has become hugely popular among the public. Many farmers have now started to incorporate carving, food and drinks as well as Halloween themed events up to 31st October. These themed experiences alongside the pumpkin picking business all help to add value, increasing your overall profitability.
Several of our members have looked at pumpkins as an opportunity to diversify their business. However, as with all business changes, it is essential that a business assessment is carried out prior to embarking on the enterprise.
Creating a pumpkin patch business plan
When carrying out an assessment you should look to generate a business plan channelling your thoughts and assess the viability of the project.
You should first explore any local competition, not only looking at their presence and proximity to your farm, but considering if there is unmet demand and to also get a feel for their pricing structure. By looking at the local competition, you will get a strong indication of the prices you can charge. Remember, the price you charge should cover all of the input costs associated with the enterprise, plus a margin.
The business plan should consider the likely demand and how many plants you will grow. Many enterprises also aim to have an event linked to Halloween at the end of the season.
These events help provide an opportunity to earn additional income and also get rid of any unsold pumpkins. Without these events, it will be pumpkin soup for the foreseeable future!
Can you make money growing pumpkins?
With diversifying into a pumpkin patch business, there may be an opportunity to link up with some environmental payments.
The creation of nearby areas rich in pollinator-friendly species can help the pumpkin enterprise to be profitable. This approach will also help to generate an associated income on land not directly related to growing pumpkins.
For more information about current opportunities please visit the CLA agricultural transition hub for famers and landowners in England.
Is growing pumpkins profitable?
You should first consider if you have any sites suitable for growing the pumpkins. Pumpkins enjoy locations with rich, well-drained soil that are kept moist. It’s also important to find areas that get a lot of sun to help the pumpkins grow and ripen. The fruit should also be sheltered from the wind, as cold winds can damage the crop’s leaves.
Your selection of variety will depend on what you are looking to provide. There are a range of pumpkins that should be chosen to best suit your local climate and soil. You may look for a mixture of a few varieties to cater for different customer demands, such as for carving or for the kitchen. The classic pumpkin varieties include Jack O’Lantern, Munchkin, Rouge Vif d'Etampes and Atlantic Giant.
Pumpkins are sown towards the end of spring (providing at least 1m gaps between plants) and harvested in the autumn. It is important during your planning phase to assess whether you are able undertake these operations and nurse the crop through to harvest.
Items you should consider include labour availability, the need for ground preparation, weeding and the application of fertiliser which can be organic or inorganic, and, hopefully, there would be no need for any plant protection products. As with all growing crops, you should look to soil sample to assess if there are any inputs required to assist your crop.
During the growth of the fruit you should look to cushion it, separating it from the ground, utilising straw or even old flat non-conductive objects under growing fruits. You will want to keep the fruit on the vine for as long as possible in order to achieve the optimum pumpkin.
Frequently, individuals chose to hand cut the pumpkins so that any impact to the appearance of the pumpkin is minimised, relative to mechanical harvesting. However, if there is a frost or some extreme weather on the horizon in the lead up to an event, then you may wish to harvest them early and store them in a dry shed if you have space on the farm.
Some farms choose to harvest the pumpkins themselves to negate the need for the public to do so, a cost that you must factor into pricing. The harvested pumpkins are then laid out, usually on straw, in lines for the public to choose from. This can reduce waste, maintain more control and limits individuals from wandering around your land. You will certainly need to ensure that you have sufficient numbers of wheelbarrows to cater for those visiting and looking to pick pumpkins.
There should be no need to rotate your crop unless you encounter disease issues. In which case you can consult an agronomist or other specialists. As with any specialised query that you may have you can find contacts on the CLA’s Business Directory.
Managing a pumpkin patch business
It is a joy for families and individuals to come out pumpkin picking. However, there are certain items that must be considered prior to inviting members of the public onto your land. You need to give careful consideration to whether you are only providing the pumpkins or whether you are providing associated pumpkin carving opportunities or refreshments.
The first port of call is access and parking. You must provide enough space to allow for manoeuvring around your land, both in their vehicle and on foot, especially if conditions are wet. Car access points, parking and footpaths should be clearly identified. This may include shelter, welfare facilities and these should be accessible for those with limited mobility. As with all items of your enterprise, it is essential that you have appropriate insurance, including public liability.
Part of your evaluation must include a health and safety risk assessment, which will include steps that you could take to reduce any associated risks. For example, you may look to sell pumpkin carving kits and provide bales or benches for people to work on.
Care should be taken if you are running any public events in an environment which may have candles or fires present. The aim is to create a safe environment, where members of the public are able to freely enjoy themselves.
You can set you own requirements, depending on your own situation. For example, it is sometimes recommended dogs aren’t brought on site to minimise any biosecurity hazards, but this can extend to requiring advance bookings to manage the site. These bookings may include a non-refundable charge, as you don’t want to lose out if individuals are able to freely book onto the event, but then decide not to show. This can be an issue if the weather is poor on any autumn day.
Whatever requirements the business sets, it is essential that these are clearly laid out for the public. This can include how you accept payments. If you wish to take card payments then you should ensure you have an appropriate card reader and check that you have reliable internet, as we all know how limiting rural internet can be. These are all items that you should look to identify in your business plan. If you are seeking inspiration, you can always visit local farms to see how they have diversified.
In summary, pumpkin growing can be an interesting and profitable diversification. Plus, pumpkin patch businesses can naturally fit in with your existing farming operations making it one of the simpler diversification options.
If you have any questions about trying to make money from a pumpkin picking diversification project, please contact your local CLA office for more information.