October 9, 2015
Could Climate Change Ruin Thanksgiving 2015?

A potential pumpkin shortage attributed to climate change is threatening to affect supplies of canned pumpkin by Thanksgiving, 2015, Christian Science Monitor reported. Libby's Pumpkin, a Nestle USA-owned company that claims to supply more than 85 percent of the world's canned pumpkin product, said an unusually rainy spring and summer will reduce annual pumpkin yields by at least half this year.

"Morton, Illinois, which grows most of the pumpkins prepared and canned by Libby's, has been experiencing increased rainfall for decades – 10 percent more, in fact."
Jim Angel, who is the state climatologist in Illinois, told Christian Science Monitor that the most severe rainfall happened to coincide with the spring planting season, which is one of the most critical times for growing pumpkins and is responsible for the anticipated shortage by Thanksgiving, 2015.

Could Climate Change Ruin Thanksgiving 2015?
Photo by Matt Cardy / Stringer / Getty Images

Illinois recorded more than nine inches of rainfall in June, which is a full five inches above the average. Between May and the end of July, the state recorded nearly two feet of rain, which is 10.4 inches above average.

Roz O'Hearn, who serves as the corporate and brand affairs director for Nestle, confirmed the impact the rains had on this year's Illinois pumpkin crops, telling ThinkProgress that crops were affected more than they originally anticipated, which could affect supplies leading up to Thanksgiving, 2015.

"This year's harvest was reduced because rains came early in the season during a critical growth period. We originally reported our yield could be off by as much as a third, but updated crop reports indicate yields will be reduced by half."
So just how much will the shortage impact our Thanksgiving holiday in 2015? Libby's reportedly hopes to have enough product to get through November, but company officials also said they expect holiday demand to deplete their entire stock of canned pumpkin. This would leave nothing in reserve to stock shelves for Christmas and beyond – a potentially devastating scenario for foodies and the company's bottom line.
"When we ship the last of the 2015 crop – in early November – we will be left with no reserves."
This means Libby's will have zero canned pumpkin to ship between November of this year and August of 2016, when next year's pumpkin crop will be harvested. No details have been revealed yet as to whether Libby's will begin to plan for frequent late spring rains in an attempt to provide enough canned pumpkin to supply Thanksgiving demand for years to come, but Nestle's president of corporate affairs was present at a Senate roundtable on climate change and food production in early October to talk about declines in Libby's pumpkin harvests.

Information gathered and made public by the National Climate Assessment at GlobalChange.gov shows that the great pumpkin shortage of Thanksgiving, 2015 is unlikely to be the last time farmers in Illinois and other parts of the Midwest will have to deal with heavy spring rains.

According to one of the charts available on the website, parts of Illinois and Ohio are now experiencing the heaviest rainfall year round.

"Key rainfall events and flooding have increased during the last century, and these trends are expected to continue, causing erosion, declining water quality and negative impacts on transportation, agriculture, human health and infrastructure."
Still, there is some good news coming out about pumpkins for Halloween and Thanksgiving, 2015, namely that consumers won't have any trouble finding decorative pumpkins for displays and carving. Ornamental pumpkins are typically brighter in color, have thinner walls and less "meat" compared to the sugar pumpkins that are canned and used to make pie filling, which tend to be oval in shape and very dense, with thick walls and a more muted orange color.

[Photo by Peggy Greb [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]