Specialty Pumpkin: Laying the Groundwork for an Emerging Crop and Lucrative Products

Project Overview

LS21-360
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2021: $399,999.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2023
Grant Recipients: University of Florida; University of Puerto Rico ; University of Georgia
Region: Southern
State: Florida
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Geoffrey Meru
University of Florida
Co-Investigators:
Dr. Carlene Chase
University of Florida
Dr. Andre da Silva
University of Georgia
Dr. Andrew MacIntosh
University of Florida
Dr. Angela Ramírez
University of Puerto Rico
Dr. Jorge Ruiz-Menjivar
University of Florida

Commodities

  • Vegetables: cucurbits

Practices

  • Crop Production: cover crops, crop improvement and selection
  • Farm Business Management: value added
  • Sustainable Communities: ethnic differences/cultural and demographic change

    Proposal abstract:

    Specialty pumpkins such as the tropical pumpkin or calabaza (Cucurbita moschata) fulfill lucrative emerging markets for the crop in the U.S. The desirable characteristics of the fruit include high soluble solids for the brewing industry; deep orange/non-stringy flesh for canning/ novel food-ingredient; and a favorable combination of flavor, fruit size, flesh texture/color for the fresh-cut market. Additionally, quality seeds are required by the snack food industry, and for pumpkin seed butter, which are non-allergenic and nutritious alternatives to nuts and nut butters. Organically grown produce is a priority for many restaurants, community supported agriculture, and for baby food. Optimized organic and conventional cropping systems will be needed to maximize profitability for growers supporting these industries. We propose a two-year, multi-institutional, transdisciplinary, regional project with University of Florida as the lead institution, in collaboration with University of Puerto Rico and University of Georgia. Our systematic approach includes Social Science research that will engage growers, industry stakeholders, and consumers to assess potential risks and benefits of specialty pumpkin production, as well as barriers to acceptance. Our breeders will provide germplasm that will be evaluated in Florida, Georgia, and Puerto Rico to select those most suitable for release as cultivars for organic and conventional systems. The suitability of the germplasm for food applications will be addressed by our food scientists who will also examine the functional attributes of the fruit and processed products. Additionally, our horticulturists will assess germplasm suitability for a conservation tillage, organic system based on summer cowpea and winter rye cover crops grown in sequence. This system will offer a sustainable, no plastic mulch approach that has the potential to suppress weeds and plant-pathogenic nematodes while improving soil health and soil fertility. We will monitor for pest and beneficial arthropods in all cropping systems to garner information that allows for the development of cultural and biological control tactics for arthropod pest management. We will conduct a thorough study of the potential acceptance of specialty pumpkin with key players in the production system from farm to consumer. This will include interviews with farmers and operators of sales points conducted through video conferencing. We will also conduct a nationwide consumer acceptance study. These three components will allow us to identify and address barriers to acceptance and take advantage of opportunities to build demand. Farmer engagement throughout the project is an important component of this project. We will work with growers to conduct on-farm trials based on treatments of their choice, grower assessments of on-station research, and an industry advisory panel that provides oversight of the overall progress of the project and makes recommendations to improve outcomes. The development of specialty pumpkin cultivars will improve environmental sustainability with a resilient, adapted crop in which pests, pathogens, and weeds will be managed with an integrated suite of physical, cultural, and biological methods. Farmer economic sustainability is also expected to improve since our systems approach will yield results that will overcome barriers to crop adoption and will identify lucrative products that are desired by consumers. 

    Project objectives from proposal:

    1. Assess potential risks/benefits of specialty pumpkin production and barriers to acceptance.
    2. Evaluate pumpkin germplasm lines and cultivars for use as flesh, seeds, and as product ingredients.
    3. Determine yield, fruit quality and disease resistance of tropical pumpkin cultivars in the Southeastern U.S. and Puerto Rico in organic and conventional cropping systems and determine phenotypic relationships among nutrition, flavor and fruit size traits in select germplasm.
    4. Develop cropping systems for sustainable organic and conventional specialty pumpkin production.
    5. Monitor arthropod pests and beneficial insects in specialty pumpkin to design cultural and biological control tactics for organic and conventional systems.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.