SPOOKY FARMING: Coles supplier for Halloween Belinda Williams has had a busy few weeks picking jack-o-lantern pumpkins.
SPOOKY FARMING: Coles supplier for Halloween Belinda Williams has had a busy few weeks picking jack-o-lantern pumpkins. Contributed

Smashing pumpkin niche

STACKELROTH Farm has carved out their own niche market, producing pumpkins that are a perfect fit for Halloween, but that doesn't mean the hard work stops.

In fact, demand for the size-specific, easy to carve jack-o-lantern pumpkins has tripled within the last six years.

Belinda Williams, who has been on the farm full time since her early 20s has witnessed the market evolve, starting about 16 years ago when she, and her mother Pam Stackelroth, signed up with a seed company to trial the variety in Bowen.

"Back then we didn't expect it to be this big,” she said.

"Coles got on board... they could see the potential that there would be growth, that Australia would follow the trends of America.”

The picking season leading up to Halloween involved an intense six weeks, she said.

"This year Coles has around 230 tonnes for the eastern state,” she said.

If keeping up with a growing demand wasn't hard enough, this year Belinda's farming business has felt a huge blow delivered from Cyclone Debbie.

"We had about 40,000 butternut plants and 30 acres of plastic down and we lost the lot,” she said.

"So basically it was just one hell of a clean up; we still have people working on our sheds and on different things so there was a fair bit of damage.”

Since then, however, Belinda said the weather had been "very kind”.

While Stackelroth Farm has been with the jack-o-lantern market since the beginning, that doesn't ensure bigger players can't swoop in and dominate their market, or vie for their contracts.

Belinda's partner, Michelle O'Regan, also on the farm full time, said maintaining their contracts over the years all came down to "building strong relationships”.

Jack-o-lantern pumpkins are harder to grow than regular varieties, but the extra effort was worth it, they said.

"It's taken 16 years of development, that's for sure,” Belinda said.

"Obviously in America they are growing into a different season.

"They are growing into the cooler weather, where we are growing into the hotter weather.

"So there has been a lot of research and development to find a variety that will stand up to our conditions.”

Also, because the pumpkins are intended to be carved, they need gentle care in handling, Michelle explained.

"They are not as solid as a butternut or jap,” Michelle said.

"They need to be handled differently.”

While most of Stackelroth Farm's carving pumpkins are sent south, Belinda said the Halloween trend had well and truly reached Bowen.

One of their workers throws a party every year, and streets in nearby Airlie Beach are often decorated this time of year.


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