After an already challenging year, timing couldn’t have been worse for pumpkin farms in Wales, with the firebreak lockdown falling over Halloween - creating the risk that surplus stock would make a nightmare of its own.

While many of the covid-19 restrictions began to relax over the summer months, pick your own (PYO) fruit sales were found to have been strong, with many growers achieving close-to-normal practice on their site. A renewed interest in local produce, ‘staycations’ and open-air activities being favoured by the public, meant forecasts also looked positive for the ‘pumpkin patch’ season.

Whilst traditional Pick your Own farms during the summer months have been around much longer, the ‘Pumpkin Patch’ experience is a relatively new trend in the UK. Google trends suggest that within Wales the search term ‘pumpkin patch near me’ has more than tripled in the last 2 years. The rise of social media sharing platforms such as Instagram have a part to play. With many celebrities and social media influences setting the standard, their avid followers now aspire to replicate their experiences and photo’s. More than ever, many of us are looking for new experiences, figures show that we are continuing to spend less money on buying things, and more on doing things – and telling the world about it online afterwards.

Many of the selling points of PYO pumpkin patches means that social distancing measures can more easily be addressed than indoors – activities are out in the open and have access to large open fields. However, it was still necessary for sites to make some adjustments to ensure the safety and enjoyment of their customers. Wales’ pumpkin patches spent hours planning and executing the necessary adjustments and were ready to provide a safe environment for Wales’ instagramers to brighten their feeds with those trendy pumpkin patch snaps.

Demand was high and social media was buzzing with positive reviews, happy customers and recommendations, but then came Wales’ firebreak announcement.

Once lockdown was announced growers did everything they possibly could to adapt and maximise their opportunities to sell as much as they possibly could and offer the experience they had promised to their customers prior to Friday 26th October. This involved opening early and closing late, notifying customers and changing slots that had been booked – a tremendous amount of last-minute changes, and a credit to the adaptability of Wales’ growers.

Despite the demand, social distancing procedures meant that numbers had to be controlled, high footfall was not an option, and for some growers they were now looking at a tremendous amount of waste.

The Tyfu Cymru Pumpkin Network was able to step in and support Wales’ growers to sell their surplus stock. The Tyfu Cymru Pumpkin Network has been facilitating collaboration between Wales’ pumpkin growers through regular online network meetings and plenty of peer to peer support over the last year. The network has offered training on topics such as, pricing, creating experiences, customer service, on site considerations, added value activities and reducing waste. As well as providing technical horticulture expertise through Chris Creed, Senior Horticultural Consultant at ADAS.

With demand for pumpkins also at a high across the border in England, farmers in Kent and Wiltshire were wanting more pumpkins. Chris was able to facilitate contact between the Welsh growers and the English growers, which resulted in Wales’ growers being able to sell their surplus stock at a reasonable price.

Chris Creed, Expert Advisor for the Tyfu Cymru Pumpkin Network said: “For potential growers on good sites, near a good road and good farm access Pumpkins offer a good “toe in the water” for farms interesting in engaging the public. Three weeks of marketing effort offers a useful boost to farm finance and may signpost the farm to try other event led crop opportunities such as sunflowers and soft fruits.

Tyfu Cymru offers the marketing technical support and confidence boost to help growers produce a crop and also offers support from other farms via various networks run by the project. In house talent often emerges both in the production and promotion of the crop with some coaching.”

Since the launch of the project in 2017, Tyfu Cymru has delivered industry specific support and training to build the capacity and capability of the Welsh horticulture sector. The project works to prepare growers to adapt to environmental and economic challenges and position them to capitalise on market opportunities for business development and growth. To date, Tyfu Cymru has developed a database of over 430 Welsh horticulture businesses, delivered over 500 training days, and engaged with over 1000 horticulture professionals across Wales and beyond.

Pumpkin growers, Rob and Rachel Saunders, who have benefited from the network said: “We have found the advice and guidance provided by Chris and the Tyfu Cymru advisers invaluable to our business and having the ability to share knowledge with our pumpkin peers during the Welsh lockdown period was vital”

Tyfu Cymru is delivered through Lantra Wales, who support both individuals and companies in the land-based and environmental sector to achieve personal and business growth. Tyfu Cymru has received funding through the Welsh Government Rural Communities - Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, which is funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development and the Welsh Government until March 2023.