Southeast watermelon deals tight, running lateTRENTON, Fla. — Demand and prices remain higher than normal as a tardy southeastern watermelon deal brings smaller early summer volume to the market.

A cold spring delayed production up to two weeks in all the growing regions from south Florida to Georgia.

In late May and early June, north Florida was beginning production as central Florida was winding down.

Georgia growers aren’t planning to begin harvesting until June 12-15.

Raleigh, N.C.-based Etheridge Produce LLC began harvesting from Williston on May 29, later than northern Florida’s typical pre-Memorial Day start.

In early June, Mike Caruthers, Etheridge’s Immokalee-based salesman, said Arcadia was finishing harvesting and said central Florida should harvest until early- to mid-June before north Florida enters higher volume.

“Supplies will be tight,” Caruthers said June 2. “There will be adequate supplies, but there won’t be any oversupply. We couldn’t get enough for Memorial Day and it will be the same for July 4. In another three weeks, there will be a transition period when north Florida finishes as Georgia starts to get going stronger.”

Southeast watermelon deals tight, running lateFlorida is producing higher supplies of the 36s compared to the shorter than normal smaller 45 sizings, he said.

In early June, Caruthers quoted f.o.b.s at 22-23 cents per-pound for 45s and 36s while Billy Smith, owner of Billy Smith’s Watermelons, quoted 21-22 cents per-pound for the 45s.

That’s similar to last year, which was also a later-starting season.

In early June last year, seedless 36s from south and central Florida sold for 22-24 cents a pound and 45s fetched 20-22 cents, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In late June last season, Georgia seedless opened at 22-23 cents a pound for the 36s and 20-21 cents a pound for the 45s, according to the USDA.

Prices after Memorial Day usually average 18-20 cents a pound, grower-shippers said.

“Watermelons should be short overall and I think the market will be good,” Smith said June 2. “It’s natural for buyers to want cheap prices after Memorial Day, but it won’t happen because there won’t be a large supply. We haven’t had a bunch of watermelons to sell.”

Billy Smith’s Watermelns started harvesting May 27.

Greg Leger, president and partner in Cordele, Ga.-based Leger & Son Inc., agreed supplies should be lower, but ample.

He said Georgia should begin volume in late June.

“At some point in Georgia, there will be volume, but I’m not sure if it will be before or after July 4,” Leger said in early June. “We have balanced supplies now. The volume and demand are there for north Florida. Retail has been set at good pricing so everything has been cleaned-up or moving. That creates opportunity for people to make a little more money hopping in and out of the deal, so to speak, but with higher prices.”

Leger said he expects Georgia to produce high quality fruit.

He said Plant City and Wimauma should harvest limited volume through mid-June.

Smith characterized north Florida quality as high but said rains delayed harvesting.

Through May 30, Florida districts shipped 9,136 40,000-pound units of seedless fruit compared to 5,775 units during the same time last season, according to the USDA.

Overall, Florida growers last season shipped 13,538 units of seedless melons, the USDA reported.