Watermelons may jump the gun

03/11/2014 01:59:00 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

IMMOKALEE, Fla. — The earliest domestic watermelons could begin shipping by mid-March, earlier than Florida’s typical April start.

The southern part of the state also produces avocados and a variety of tropicals.

Watermelon

Watermelon shipments could start several weeks early, said Brian Arrigo, president of Southern Corporate Packers Inc.

Favorable weather conditions, including minimal rain and warm 80-plus degree days from late January through late February, were helping bring the watermelons on early, he said in late February.

“They’re coming on really fast now,” Arrigo said. “The vines look good and healthy, and we’re not seeing any disease. Demand is strong and customers are anxious wanting to know when Florida’s juicy sweet melons will get started. With such a shortage of melons around now, everyone’s wondering when volume will kick back in.”

While South Florida normally begins to finish by May 15, central Florida starts in early May and runs through early June, overlapping with north Florida production, which begins in late May and runs through early June, just as Georgia usually begins harvesting.

McMelon Inc., Lake Wales, plans to begin harvesting May 1-5.

Chandler Mack, vice president of operations, said buyers can expect the season to bring bigger central Florida production.

“My gut tells me acreage will be up in Florida,” he said. “We had a good market last year, and they’re saying central Florida acreage may be up by a significant amount, though our acreage is similar to last season’s. That’s typical with good markets.”

In May last year, f.o.b.s were in the mid- to high 20 cents per-pound range versus the typical low 20s, Mack said

The deal usually sees strong Memorial Day demand, Mack said, and demand could commence once warm weather sets in the Northeast, which has been plagued by extreme cold and ice and snowstorms.

Avocados, tropicals

In late February, most grower-shippers were finishing avocado shipments.

South Florida’s season normally starts in late May with small production building through June before promotable volumes typically start in early July. Shipments normally begin declining in late January.

Peter Leifermann, director of sales and fruit procurement for Brooks Tropicals LLC, Homestead, said the 2013-14 season brought high quality fruit and some of the late-season varieties helped make the year successful.

A drier summer in 2013 also helped growers avoid some of the problems rains usually bring, he said.

This year, growers expect to harvest 1.1 million bushels, similar to last season, Leifermann said.

On tropicals, South Florida growers harvest a variety of tropical items throughout the year, including mamey sapote, Thai guava, star fruit, passion fruit, boniato, water coconut and lychee.

Spring usually represents the smallest production, however.

Mamey sapote, the white and Thai varieties of guava and lychees typically begin production May 22, when the region’s rainy season starts with passion fruit beginning in June.

Though mamey sapote can start as early as March 1, promotional volume usually won’t hit until closer to May, Leifermann said.

Because of warmer than normal winters, Brooks hasn’t produced much lychees during the last two seasons but expects to produce a crop this season, Leifermann said.

Brooks expected star fruit or carambola to finish in early March but resume production in late May.

“Though there isn’t much fruit peaking or even available during the spring, we do expect to have some,” he said. “Buyers need to be ready to make shelf space for their new customers, the people that will demand the dragon fruit, the guavas and the passion fruit. Tropical fruit consumption is increasing, and retailers need to be looking to offer an even greater selection in 2014 than in years past.”



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