COCKEYSVILLE, MD. -- By the time Halloween comes this year, many farmers will have already received their treat -- from the sales of pumpkins.
Fall sales of pumpkins have always been a profitable way to end the season for farmers who sell corn, tomatoes and other produce during the summer.
Tim McQuaid, who works at Valley View Farms in Cockeysville, north of Baltimore, said this week that the garden center is buying more and more pumpkins from Maryland farmers.
"With the money in it, that's what a lot of them are going toward," McQuaid said. "With tomatoes, there's a lot of worry and it's a perishable product. Pumpkins are more durable. Indian corn is the same way. Instead of selling sweet corn for two or three dollars a dozen, you can get the same amount for three ears of Indian corn."
Pumpkins were selling Monday at the garden center for 29 cents a pound, or all you could carry for $9.98.
"If you just grow a couple of acres, and know where to sell them, they can be a good cash crop," said Penny Henderson, vice chairman of the Anne Arundel County Farmer's Market Board.
Maryland is one of the top 15 pumpkin-producing states in the nation, she said.
Last year, Maryland farmers shipped about 8.1 million pounds of the ocherous squash, said Vince Matthews, of the state Agricultural Statistics Service.
Pumpkins are grown from Canada to Texas, said Kathy Means, a spokeswoman for the Produce Marketing Association.
Maryland farmers have grown about 625,000 pumpkins annually for several years. The average market value has been $850,000. Last year, 815 acres of pumpkins were planted, mostly on the Western Shore, Matthews said.
Most of the pumpkins are shipped to roadside stands and supermarkets where they are sold fresh. Harvesting begins in September and hits its peak in early October, Matthews said.
Farmers say this year's crop has been good in some places and poor in others.
Gail and Eldridge Wilkerson of Tracy's Landing said the sweet corn and tomato crops on their 80-acre farm did well this year, but there was too much rain for their pumpkins.
"They've gotten so much rain that some have spoiled in the field. They're not as pretty if they get too much rain," Gail Wilkerson said.
Earl Griffith of Lothian, who farms about 350 acres with his son, Jeff, said he usually plants several acres, but planted less than a quarter of an acre this year.
One of the most popular varieties is the smaller tomato-sized "jack-be-little" pumpkin.
"I've sold just a couple of bushels and planted just a few rows. They really did good this year," he said.