IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Buyers should expect an earlier-than-normal start for this year’s Florida watermelon deal.
Growers say abnormally warm temperatures this winter brought plants close to maturity by late February.
Southern Corporate Packers Inc. plans to begin harvesting as early as late March, about two to three weeks ahead of usual, said Brian Arrigo, president.
“The plants look really great,” Arrigo said in late February. “It’s still a bit early but what we are seeing now should be a, very good crop.”
Arrigo said he’s a little worried shoppers may not react favorably to an earlier deal. If the deal enters while the Northeast remains in cold weather, marketers might find difficulty merchandising them.
South Florida production typically begins in mid- to late April and runs through Memorial Day.
Arrigo works the deal through central and north Florida, Georgia and the Eastern Shore and Canada.
Looking good in central Florida
Central Florida production is expected to begin on-time in late April, said Jason Turner, salesman with Mack Farms Inc. and McMelon Inc., Lake Wales.
“The plants look nice,” Turner said in late February. “They look healthy. They look very good coming out of the greenhouse. They have no cold damage.”
McMelon plans to begin its north Florida production near Trenton and Newberry May 15-20 and run through July 4 with its Hawkinsville, Ga., and Moultrie, Ga., production set to start in mid-June.
Turner called last season a strong year. As south Florida finished earlier than normal, Turner said central Florida growers saw some strong early demand, which kept prices strong throughout East Coast production until Labor Day.
Though central Florida’s deal started strong, Turner said supplies became heavier than normal because of colder Northeast weather.
As the deal transitioned to north Florida, Turner said supplies tightened, demand improved and prices increased as the weather warmed in the Midwest and Northeast.
Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., echoed the concern of a premature start.
“The fear is if it comes on too early or too heavily, it will peak before the Memorial Day push,” he said in late February. “There’s always this fear they will be too early and peak before the movement gets going. In Immokalee, we want to have the last big push and be finished for Memorial Day promotions.”
Lytch said a couple of cold weather events stunted and slowed L&M’s Immokalee area production, a good thing, he said preventing the deal from starting prematurely.
In late February, Lytch said the younger plants were just starting to run off the beds while the first plantings were covering the beds with vines.