Despite sweet corn and watermelon production problems, retailers should expect adequate volumes for Labor Day (Sept. 2) promotions.

Heavy rains during plantings affected growers throughout U.S. summer corn and watermelon producing regions.


Labor Day corn, watermelon to be in ample supplyGill Corn Farms Inc. in Hurley, N.Y., began harvest July 14, ahead of the typical July 20 start.

Tim Richards, salesman, said torrential rains during plantings combined with high July heat forced corn to mature earlier than expected and field spots reduced yields.

Because the grower-shipper was transitioning from early- to mid-season varieties, Richards said Gill Farms on July 29 almost run out of corn and was harvesting lighter volume.

He said he expected normal volume to return in early August.

“For Labor Day, we will have supplies for our regular customers,” Richards said in late July. “I’m optimistic and we have a lot of corn left and I think we will have fair volume. We won’t be short of anything nor have an overabundance. We should come out right.”

Richards characterized corn quality as excellent and said he heard heavy rains also affected other corn growing regions.

On July 29, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported wirebound crates of 4-dozen minimum yellow and bicolor corn from New York’s Hudson Valley selling for $9-10.50, up from $8.50-9.35 the previous week, while the same crates from California’s central district sold for $10-10.95 for white and $10.95-11 for yellow and bicolor.

Delaware, Virginia, Michigan, Colorado as well as Canada also produce corn for the holiday.


Labor Day watermelon supplies should be adequate as well but July supply and quality weren’t so strong, shippers report.

Randy Smith, vice president and salesman for Midwest Marketing Co. Inc., Vincennes, Ind., described quality as “below par.”

Midwest began harvesting July 21, a week later than the normal start, and Smith said Midwest was harvesting decent sizes but not as many large watermelon as usual.

Heavy rains hurt crop set and sliced considerably into Hoosier State volume, he said.

Smith said the region’s volume is down by a third and said Midwest Marketing will be lucky if it’s able to ship 200 of its typical 250 season loads.

Though the growing region was experiencing a production gap in late July, Smith said he looked for supplies to improve in August, in time for Labor Day promotions.

“In the past when we’re early like we usually are, a lot of times on the tail end of the crop you’re scraping to come up with enough watermelons to try to fill orders,” Smith said. “That shouldn’t be a problem this year. We should be in better shape then (for Labor Day). The gap will be over and hopefully, we’ll be in the back end of the crop, which is often stronger than the front end as there’s less stress on the vines.”

Smith said Missouri and North Carolina should finish shipments by Labor Day and said retailers should remain dependent on Indiana, Maryland, Delaware as well as production in Michigan and Canada.

In late July, he quoted 18-19 cents a pound, higher than the typical 14-18 cents per pound.

The USDA in late July reported these per-pound prices for 24 inch bins: 15-16 cents for red seeded 35s while seedless size 45s and 60s were fetching 18-19 cents, up from 15-16 cents a week earlier for the 45s.

The USDA reported growers curtailed harvesting in several Texas growing regions July 14-20 because of rain and wet fields.

For Texas, the agency reported 24-inch bin per-pound red seedless 35s selling for 16-18 cents with 45s garnering 18 cents, the same as the previous week.

Retail promotions

Tommy Wilkins, director of produce procurement for United Supermarkets LLC, Lubbock, Texas, said he expects strong Labor Day corn and watermelon supplies.

The west Texas watermelon deal began three weeks later than normal, which made it difficult for July 4 promotions, but Wilkins said he expects the later volume to produce a strong Labor Day run.

He described quality as strong and seedless quality as “phenomenal.”

On corn, Wilkins said the Colorado corn United switched to from Texas in mid-July looks well.

“Unless Mother Nature throws us a curve, it’s just a beautiful set-up we have for Labor Day,” he said in late July. “There will be good supplies and we are excited about the opportunities for corn. On watermelon, it’s lining up to be a fun time and good for the consumer.”