Illinois: A Powerhouse in Pumpkin Cultivation

by Amir Hussein
Illinois pumpkin production

A Landsat 8 satellite, using its Operational Land Imager, captured a natural-color image of farmlands near Peoria, Illinois, on October 22, 2022, showcasing the region’s agricultural landscape.

Central Illinois is a significant source of the canned pumpkin found in many Thanksgiving dishes, such as pies and soups.

Pumpkins, originating as a type of winter squash in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, rank among the earliest plants cultivated by humans. Archaeological findings suggest the independent domestication of various pumpkin species in different regions of North, Central, and South America between 4,000 and 10,000 years ago.

Evolution of Pumpkins from Ancient Gourds

Originally, wild pumpkins were small, bitter, and gourd-like, primarily consumed by ancient megafauna like mammoths and mastodons. However, through selective breeding by early humans, modern pumpkins have evolved into larger, sweeter, and more edible varieties.

Pumpkin Farming in the United States

Although pumpkins are grown in all fifty states, Illinois is renowned for its extensive acreage and substantial pumpkin harvest. Captured by the OLI of Landsat 8, the image shows farmlands around Peoria, Illinois, a key center for pumpkin cultivation and processing, as of October 22, 2022. The soil and climatic conditions in Central Illinois are highly conducive to pumpkin farming. By the time of this image, post-harvest, most fields had turned brown, indicating the season’s end.

Dominance of Illinois in Pumpkin Production

Illinois led U.S. pumpkin production in 2021 with 652 million pounds (296 million kilograms), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This figure represented over one-quarter of the national output, surpassing the combined production of the next five leading states. Notably, Illinois specializes in pumpkins for canning and culinary use, in contrast to other states like Indiana and California, which focus more on decorative and carving pumpkins.

Pumpkin Processing in Morton and Princeville

Integral to Illinois’ pumpkin industry are Morton and Princeville, hosting major pumpkin processing plants. These facilities are involved in cleaning, peeling, cooking, puréeing, and canning pumpkins, which significantly contributes to Illinois producing over 90 percent of the U.S.’s processed pumpkins, widely used in Thanksgiving pumpkin pies.

This image and data were provided by NASA Earth Observatory, courtesy of Joshua Stevens and based on Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Illinois pumpkin production

Where is the primary source of canned pumpkin in the U.S.?

The main source of canned pumpkin in the United States, especially used in Thanksgiving dishes like pies and soups, is Central Illinois.

What is the historical significance of pumpkins?

Pumpkins, native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, are among the oldest domesticated plants, dating back between 4,000 and 10,000 years in various parts of the Americas.

How have modern pumpkins evolved from their wild ancestors?

Modern pumpkins have evolved from small, bitter wild gourds to larger, sweeter, and more palatable forms, thanks to selective breeding by early humans.

Which state is the leading producer of pumpkins in the U.S.?

Illinois is the leading producer of pumpkins in the United States, with a harvest of 652 million pounds in 2021, accounting for more than a quarter of the country’s total pumpkin production.

What role do Morton and Princeville play in pumpkin production?

Morton and Princeville, Illinois, are home to some of the largest pumpkin processing facilities in the state, where pumpkins are washed, peeled, heated, puréed, and canned, contributing significantly to Illinois’ dominance in processed pumpkin production.

More about Illinois pumpkin production

  • Illinois Pumpkin Harvest Data
  • Evolution of Pumpkins
  • NASA Earth Observatory
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture Pumpkin Statistics
  • Landsat 8 Satellite Imagery
  • Pumpkin Cultivation in the United States
  • Central Illinois Farming Practices
  • Morton and Princeville Pumpkin Processing Facilities

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Sarah K November 24, 2023 - 7:50 pm

its amazing how pumpkins have evolved over thousands of years from small bitter things to the pumpkins we know today, nature and human intervention at its best.

MarkusB November 25, 2023 - 4:21 am

Landsat 8 imagery adds a cool perspective, showing the farming landscape from above. Makes you appreciate the scale of agriculture!

Jenny M. November 25, 2023 - 6:35 am

really interesting to see how much Illinois contributes to pumpkin production, didnt know that it was such a big deal there!

Tom H November 25, 2023 - 11:45 am

I always thought California or maybe Florida would be the top producers, surprised to learn its actually Illinois leading the way in pumpkin farming.


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