CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The North Carolina Mountains are known for growing Christmas trees, but over the last two decades farmers have been ramping up production on another crop: pumpkins.
According to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s Brad Edwards, Alleghany County produces the most pumpkins in the state. The pumpkin operation is significantly smaller than the county’s Christmas tree production but it has been steadily increasing over the last 20 years. Edwards estimates Alleghany County harvests 1.8 million Christmas trees each season. He says the county produced about 6 million pumpkins this fall.
One of the top pumpkin farms in the state is Bull Branch Farms in Sparta, N.C. Jim Cox, owner and operator of the farm, says his family has farmed his entire life, but only part-time.
“My son makes 13 generations that were born here in the Blue Ridge Mountains,” Cox said.
Cox spent 30 years on the roads with North Carolina Highway Patrol. In 2013, he retired from law enforcement and decided to go full-time in farming.
“Our first pumpkin crops was 3 acres,” Cox said. “We’ve been extremely blessed by the Lord to grow to the point where we are right now. We have 320 acres is what we harvested.”
Cox says they begin planting pumpkin seeds in May. They began harvesting the first week of September.
“So, we’ve been at this for 12-14 hours a day, 7 days a week, unless it was inclement weather,” Cox said.
Cox says they’ve had a good yield, but they can hardly keep up with the demand.
“This year has been such a success in the pumpkin industry because of our yield and the demand. Anything we’ve got, is going in the box if it’s a quality fruit,” Cox said. “The demand outweighs any type of demand that we’ve had before. We cannot keep up with the volume that we’re asked to produce.”
Since pumpkin production has increased at Bull Branch Farms, Cox says they have become more competitive with other farms in the pumpkin industry. Illinois is the largest pumpkin producer in the nation, but Cox says North Carolina has become competitive with midwestern states because the climate of the Blue Ridge Mountains helps produce a quality pumpkin, and North Carolina’s proximity to the southern states makes freight costs cheaper.
“Because of the elevation of where we live and the cool climate that is typical of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is why we can grow better and bigger pumpkins than the rest of the state,” Cox said.