Texas melon producers reported exceptional fruit quality but slightly lower yields amid budget-breaking production costs and stagnant market prices, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.
Watermelon production was coming to a close, and cantaloupe and honeydew harvests were well underway in the Rio Grande Valley. Watermelon and cantaloupe harvests were about to begin in the Winter Garden region as growers look to meet peak seasonal demand around the Fourth of July holiday.
Juan Anciso, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Weslaco, said fruit sets were good and resulted in above-average yields and good quality, but that high temperatures were impacting new growth.
“The first cutting was heavy, and there is no new fruit coming on,” he said. “The plants seem to be shutting down.”
Despite good yields for watermelon producers, Anciso said honeydew melon growers experienced problems, including a hailstorm that hurt their fruit’s aesthetics. Fruit with cosmetic “nicks” were not marketable to grocers. In some cases, Anciso said around 50% of fields, representing thousands of pounds of melons, were deemed unmarketable.
“There has been a flood of melons with these flaws on street corners and fruit stands, but they really don’t make up for the losses when you are talking 18-wheelers full of melons that are considered culls,” he said. “Otherwise, growers in the Valley were looking at a heck of a season.”
Windy conditions, melons for Fourth of July
Larry Stein, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension horticulture specialist, Uvalde, said “desperately dry,” hot and windy conditions in Central Texas have contributed to slightly below-average watermelon and cantaloupe yields, but quality has been outstanding. Brix counts, the measurement for sugar content and sweetness, have been exceptionally high.
Cantaloupe producers have reported that the lack of rainfall and excess moisture has resulted in brix levels rivaling famed Pecos cantaloupes, Stein said.
Stein said fields with windbreaks were likely to fair better, as high winds negatively impact vine growth and their ability to bind to something and hold in place. High winds also blow vines together. The subsequent tangles of vines and windy conditions inhibit honeybees’ ability to pollinate blooms to set fruit.
High temperatures also impact the viability of pollen, he said.
“The heat and wind have been hard on melons this year,” he said. “The wind has been beating everything up, and it complicates pollination,” he said. “I think producers will hit the Fourth of July window, and the bottom line is that quality is exceptional despite the difficulties.”
Prices stagnant, costs increased for growers
Despite the good yields, Anciso and Stein said growers were less likely to realize profits due to flat prices and higher input and logistical costs. Costs for fertilizer, fuel, labor, packing materials and shipping all increased, but prices only increased slightly.
“Farms are getting 16 cents-18 cents per pound when we’d like to see them getting 20-plus-cents per pound,” Anciso said. “But growers are concerned about the high costs this season. The good yields should help offset costs for some, but it will be difficult to make money, and it’s not related to the supply and demand of their crop.”
Anciso said many melon harvests had been delayed by the lack of available harvest crews. Stein said costs had doubled for most producers and tripled for some.
“Costs are an issue for sure,” Stein said. “In some cases, producers will break even, maybe.”
Photo: Watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew melon quality is exceptionally high this season as Fourth of July celebrations near. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Laura McKenzie)
By Adam Russell with AgriLife Today.