Canned pumpkin shortage threatens to ruin Thanksgiving

Get your canned pumpkin now before it's too late.

Get your canned pumpkin now before it's too late.  (AP Photo)

Pumpkin may be the signature flavor of fall, but a below-average sugar pumpkin harvest could have pie makers across the country scrambling for cans of the prized orange mash during the holiday.

This year’s yield of carving pumpkins, the large, rounded, type you typically find at pumpkin patches, should be enough to satisfy all the Jack-O-Lantern artisans through Halloween, but that might not be the case for the canned pumpkin used in pies come Thanksgiving, according to crop experts in Illinois, the country's top pumpkin-producing state.

"I would not wait until Nov. 20," University of Illinois professor Mohammad Babadoost said, referencing the Nov. 26 Thanksgiving holiday. "I'd buy it whenever it comes to the store."

Sugar, or pie pumpkins, the type used in cans of Libby’s, are smaller in shape and have more flesh than their larger counterparts. The pulp also has a less grainy texture that is sweeter.

Farmers throughout the state are blaming record rainfall in June for washing out their sugar pumpkin crop.

Jane Moran, who owns Moran's Orchard in Neoga, said they replanted washed out pumpkin crops and then it rained more so they're buying pumpkins at auction twice a week.

"When you deal with Mother Nature, you just have to take it and go on," Moran said.

Libby, one of the nation’s largest manufactures of canned pumpkin, says yields could be off by as much as a third this year in Illinois, where about 90 percent of the pumpkins grown in the U.S. come from within a 90-mile radius of Peoria.

But Libby's corporate and brand affairs director Roz O'Hearn said the company, which has had a central Illinois pumpkin processing plant since 1929, is confident it will have enough pumpkin for autumn holidays. 

However she added that there will be little, if any left after the holiday season, saying that "once we ship the remainder of the 2015 harvest, we'll have no more Libby's pumpkin to sell until harvest 2016."

Earlier this year, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed legislation making pumpkin pie the official state pie of Illinois.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.