It could be a scary Halloween for pumpkin buyers.
East Valley shoppers can expect to pay higher prices for pumpkins at most stores and produce markets as a result of higher transportation costs and a reduced pumpkin supply caused by excessive rain and drought.
Virtually all pumpkins come to Arizona from other states including Illinois, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New York.
"Arizona isn't a big pumpkin state," said Steve Manheimer, director of the Arizona Farm Bureau.
But while there areseveral, relatively small pumpkin farms scattered throughout Arizona, he said the demand and the supply for the potential jack-o'-lanterns for the Oct. 31 holiday have been steadily growing in recent years.
One of the biggest suppliers, Wal-Mart, is preparing to add pumpkins to its shelves this week for the rush.
"There is, in fact, a general shortage of pumpkins this year and, as a result, costs are up as well," said Caren Epstein, director of communications for the Bentonville, Ark.-based chain. She could not say what the increase would be this year.
In Arizona, one of the biggest pumpkin growers is Apple Annie's Produce and Pumpkin Farm in Willcox.
John Holcomb, owner of the 40-acre farm, said prices for the larger pumpkins used primarily for jack-o'-lanterns last year ranged from $3 to $20. This year, he expects the larger pumpkins to sell for $25.
Another Arizona farmer, Wade Kelsall, said his farm in Duncan produced more pumpkins this year than last year, but he added:
"The high cost for gasoline and diesel fuel to ship our pumpkins to the greater-Phoenix area adds to the final cost." He predicted costs would increase by between 20 and 30 cents a pound.
He also owns Brooke's Pumpkin Patch at Mother Nature's Farm, 1663 E. Baseline Road in Gilbert, where the pumpkins are sold to customers who walk through the patch.
Mark Schnepf said his costs for pumpkins grown in Utah and delivered to his farm in Queen Creek have increased by about 30 percent compared with last year.
"Although our costs have gone up, we're going to try to hold the price down for our visitors who pick them in our pumpkin patch," Schnepf said, adding the delivered pumpkins are placed among vines.
He said pumpkins sell for between $2 and $12, depending on the size and weight. Last year, more than 400,000 pounds were sold during the Schnepf Farms annual "Pumpkin & Chili Party."
The pumpkin industry, meanwhile, has steadily grown in every state and exceeded 1.7 billion pounds between 2004 and 2006, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Total production dropped to 1.1 billion pounds in 2007, said the USDA, largely because of excessive rain or drought.
The popularity of urban pumpkin patches, such as at Schnepf Farms, fall festivals and ornamental use of pumpkins at homes and businesses have increased the demand for pumpkins for the past 20 years, said a USDA report.
Last year, pumpkins harvested from 43,200 acres were valued at $117 million, according to the USDA.
Lori Fries, a volunteer at Anderson Elementary School in Chandler, has been buying pumpkins for Halloween for her family for many years.
"Buying pumpkins and carving them for Halloween has become a tradition for families, including ours," said Fries, who buys her pumpkins annually at the farmers market in downtown Chandler.