Early summer oversupply depresses southeast watermelon prices

06/30/2010 05:01:16 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

Pressed by excessive volume and low prices, grower-shippers hope for better markets as north Florida and south Georgia watermelon production transitions to other southern and Midwestern producing regions.

The south and central Florida spring deals, which saw later volume after freezes and unfavorable growing conditions delayed plantings, plus an earlier-than-normal south Georgia start, brought too many watermelon to the market during late May.


Doug Ohlemeier

An oversupply and low prices mark the end of the north Florida and south Georgia watermelon deals. Grower-shippers hope for better markets as the deal transitions to other southern and Midwestern producing regions.


The bunching of volume has kept prices low since Memorial Day and some growers abandoned production, shippers said in late June.

“The price in Georgia has been extremely short,” said Randy Smith, vice president and salesman for Midwest Marketing Co. Inc., Vincennes, Ind., which sells for Florida and Georgia growers. “The growers have lost a lot of money. A lot of the melons have been left in the fields because they couldn’t sell all they had.”

On June 28, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said Florida movement was decreasing as most growers were finishing their season and predicted south Georgia volume was increasing for the Fourth of July holiday shipping week.

From south Georgia, the USDA reported 24-inch bins per cwt. red flesh seeded watermelons selling for $9 for 35s; red flesh seedless 36s, $8; 45s, $10-11; 60s, $11-12.

In north Florida, 24-inch bins per cwt. red flesh seedless 36s sold for $7-8; 45s, $10; 60s, $10-11.

That’s lower than last season in late June when the USDA reported watermelon from northern Florida selling for $16-18 for 24-inch bins per cwt. of red-flesh seeded 35s with red-flesh seedless 36s, 45s and 60s selling for $17-20.

Because of insufficient volume, the USDA wasn’t reporting Georgia prices in late June last season.

“The biggest thing we are fighting now is oversupply,” said Billy Smith, owner of Billy Smith’s Watermelons Inc., Trenton, Fla., which finished its northern Florida harvesting June 29.  “There are just too many watermelon. There is an awful lot of big fruit this year, and big fruit is hard to sell.”

Smith, who grows in Florida and brokers for growers in other regions, said he doesn’t see prices improving until mid-July at the earliest.

Greg Leger, president and partner in Leger & Son Inc., Cordele, Ga., and Randy Smith said they hope prices improve as volume declines during the seasonal transition to North Carolina and Indiana production regions.

North Carolina and South Carolina usually start in early July, while Indiana typically begins harvesting in mid-July.

“I don’t feel we will have the volume that drug this deal into the dirt after the Memorial Day holiday that we saw before,” Leger said June 29. “The growing regions won’t be on top of each other as bad as they were from Florida to Georgia. Everyone should get back into their slot.”

Leger, who by late June had finished his Ocala, Fla., production, said he expected south Georgia to end harvesting July 12-16 with a limited number of fields going a little later.

High heat and humidity brought on much south Georgia fruit which has produced high quality and high volume, Leger said.

“We are blowing and going pretty hard for our Fourth of July shipments,” he said.

In late June, Randy Smith said Midwest Marketing’s Georgia growers were close to finishing harvesting and should finish volume by early July with scrapping commencing afterwards.

Smith said he plans to start Indiana harvesting on-time July 15-18.

He said Missouri production started in late June and was expected to run to mid-August.

Excessive heat and dryness, however, brought Missouri volume on earlier than normal, Smith said.

Because of the adverse growing weather, Smith said Missouri growers say they’re not expecting a large crop.

Rain forecast to hit the boot heel growing region July 3-4 could help change the situation some, he said.

Smith said he expects a strong Indiana crop which normally runs through Labor Day.



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