Temperatures disrupt melon supply

08/09/2006 12:00:00 AM
Andy Nelson

(Aug. 9) Soaring temperatures in California in July were wreaking havoc on the state’s melon volumes in August, grower-shippers said, sending prices higher.

“The hot weather has taken a toll on the crop,” said Steve Patricio, partner in Westside Produce Inc., Firebaugh, Calif. “We won’t know how much for another 30 to 60 days.”

While the effect of the heat won’t be known until closer to the end of the deal, which for Westside should be in the first half of October, the effect right now is clear, Patricio said.

“The heat pushed the crops forward, and it’s hugely affecting supplies today,” he said Aug. 7. “Supplies have been down 25% to 40% the past two weeks.”

Because of the lower yields, demand for California cantaloupes is exceeding supplies, Patricio said. The heat also has reduced volumes in the Southeast and other growing regions, he said.

But the market situation is complicated by the fact that typically in August a glut of product in California and other growing regions means supply exceeds demand.

Because of that, and because of pressure to sell melons on ad in August, markets won’t be as strong, Patricio said, as the low yields might suggest they would be.

“You want to believe prices would be outstanding, but it’s tempered by other factors,” he said.

Prices in the second week of August, however, were strong, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

On Aug. 8, the USDA reported prices of $9.35-10.45 for half cartons of 9-12 cantaloupes from California’s San Joaquin Valley, up from $3-3.35 last year at the same time. Size 15-18s were $9.35-9.45, up from $3-3.35 last year at the same time.

About 254 million pounds of cantaloupes shipped from California year-to-date, down from 334 million last year at the same time, the USDA reported Aug. 8.

Nationwide, 2 billion pounds had been shipped year-to-date, about the same as last year.

So dramatic has the heat’s effect been, Couture Farms, Huron, Calif., actually had a week in the middle of the heat wave where it didn’t have any cantaloupes, honeydews or specialty melons for sale. Erratic planting schedules in the spring, because of excessive rain, also contributed to the gap.

“It’s never happened in 40 years,” said Steve Couture, partner. “It’s very unusual to have that long of a gap. The heat pushed fields that were ready. This has been a year for the record books for how strange it’s been.”

Yields also are expected to be down for Couture Farms, Couture said. But the dip will be relative, he said.

“We’ve spoiled ourselves, expecting big crops every year,” he said. “We won’t have a poor year this year, just an average or slightly-below-average year.”


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