Lower Southeastern watermelon yields bump up prices

06/17/2009 10:27:04 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

TRENTON, Fla. —  Buyers should expect higher prices for this summer’s watermelon deal as continuous rains slice Southeastern volume.

After heavy rains delayed plant setting, grower-shippers expect volume to be down by 25% to 33% and a later than normal Georgia start.

Though some south Georgia growers in the Tifton and Valdosta areas had began harvesting in mid-June, May and early June rains have delayed the start of the Cordele, Ga. deal.

Greg Leger, president and partner of Cordele-based Leger & Son Inc., said Cordele-area harvest should start June 20-22, about two weeks later than normal.

Leger said he expects up to a third in yield losses. He said fields in which crews picked up to 60,000 pounds per acre this past season might not even be able to yield 40,000 pounds per acre this season.

Some production areas have been soaked since January with up to 30-40 inches of rain. Leger said the heavy rains affected vines and prevented fruit from setting. Because water was on some fields for so long, roots don’t go deep.

“It will be a mad dash to the Fourth of July,” Leger said June 16. “We will go into the Fourth of July a little bit short, but there should be fruit after the Fourth as well.”


Doug Ohlemeier

Workers pack seedless watermelons at Billy Smith’s Watermelons Inc., Trenton, Fla. Northern Florida prices have been high because of a later than normal Georgia start. Continuous rains have also cut yields.

To keep the pipeline moving and not become backlogged with product, with the holiday falling on a Saturday, Leger said he hopes as many shoppers buy watermelon the week after July 4.

As northern Florida production was winding down, grower-shippers expected prices to remain on the high side.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture June 16 reported northern Florida harvests delayed by rain and wet fields.
Red seeded watermelon from that region sold for $16-18 for 24-inch bins per cwt. of 35s while red flesh seedless 36s, 45s and 60s sold for $17-20.

That’s higher than last season when in mid- to late June 24-inch bins per cwt. of red flesh seedless 35s and 60s from northern Florida sold for $13-14 and 45s were $15-16. Red seeded 35s sold for $14-15 while 45s went for $12-13.


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