ST. LOUIS -- Whether at a pumpkin patch or the grocery store, everyone is looking for the perfect Halloween pumpkin.

The pumpkin breeders at Seminis Vegetable Seeds, a subsidiary of Monsanto Company and one of the largest producers of pumpkin seeds, work all year to make better pumpkins for Halloween.

Seminis pumpkin breeder Bill Johnson breeds pumpkins with stronger stems that won't break, as well as healthier pumpkins with more vibrant colors and smoother skin.

What do consumers look for in a perfect pumpkin?

"Color, of course, is important," Johnson said. "People have their idea of what they like in a pumpkin color; generally, darker is preferred. The handle of the pumpkin needs to be large enough to hold, and strong enough that the pumpkin doesn't break when you hold it up. If it's more embedded into the fruit, it's not going to break as easily."

Johnson looks at thousands of pumpkins in the field each year, selecting for breeding those that make good jack-o-lanterns or produce snackable seeds.

Seminis produces more than 10 different varieties of pumpkin seeds to meet varying consumer needs. A variety called Orange Smoothie, for instance, was selected for its extremely smooth skin and small size, making it ideal for small children who would rather draw on the pumpkin than carve it. Another variety called Snack Jack was selected for its high production of seeds without shells that are better for toasting.

"People have personal preferences when they pick out a pumpkin," Johnson said. "It used to be that people had pumpkins as decoration in their home; now it seems it's almost mandatory to have several in front of their house. Consumer preference is really what drives our breeding efforts at Seminis."

Ironically, Johnson misses Halloween every year. "I'm rarely home for Halloween," Johnson said. "It just happens that the breeding cycle has me traveling in the month of October. So I almost always miss Halloween at home."

Facts about pumpkins:

  • Eighty percent of the pumpkin supply in the United States is available in October. (Virginia pumpkin growers association)
  • Americans spend about $100 million this time of year on pumpkins. (NBC, Oct. 11, 2006)
  • This year consumers will spend nearly $5 billion celebrating Halloween, up almost 2 billion from last year. (Fox 28, Oct. 20, 2006)

  • Seminis is the world's leading developer, producer and marketer of vegetable seeds. Its products are designed to reduce the need for agricultural chemicals, increase crop yield, reduce spoilage, offer longer shelf life, and create better-tasting foods and foods with higher nutritional content. Seminis has established a worldwide presence and global sales and distribution network that spans 150 countries and territories.

    With headquarters in St. Louis, Monsanto Company is a leading global provider of technology-based solutions and agricultural products that improve farm productivity and food quality.

    SOURCE: Monsanto Company via PR Newswire.