Watermelon prices get stuck in cellar

06/23/2004 12:00:00 AM
Chris Koger

(June 23) Watermelon shippers in late June were sitting with hundreds of loads and nowhere to send them.

Some said even the promise of increased Fourth of July demand won’t be enough to resurrect the ailing market that’s dipped to as low as 4 cents a pound on seeded and seedless melons.

The expected post-Independence Day slowdown is compounded by the start of the Midwest deal the first two weeks of July.

“It’s horrible. It’s hard to get orders, and trucks are starting to gouge us on the price,” said Rosie Elliotte, general manager of Newberry, Fla.-based Don Green Melon Sales Inc., who is struggling to find traction for the Cordele, Ga., deal that started in mid-June.

Like others trying to find buyers, Elliotte has heard the stories of growers foregoing harvest with prices at one-half to one-third what they were in late June 2003.

“There’s still a lot being shipped out of Texas and Florida, and I had one shipper tell me they had 75 loads sitting in their sheds, and they were starting on a 1,100-acre field today and a 1,300-acre field tomorrow,” she said on June 22. “I need to ship (from Cordele) another two to three weeks, but I’m afraid the market will die after the Fourth.”

PRICES

Shippers contacted June 22 reported prices for seeded and seedless melons as low as 4 cents a pound, with more prices being quoted from 6-8 cents a pound.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on June 21 reported lows of $6 per cwt. on seeded 18-24-pound seeded Georgia watermelons, and seedless 45-count in 24-inch bins and seeded 50-count in 36-inch bins at $8-9 per cwt. Florida melons were at $6-7 per cwt. for bulk seeded 18-24 pounds and $8-9 per cwt. for 24-inch bins of the seedless 45-count melons.

At the same time last year, the 45-count binned seedless were $15-16 per cwt. in Florida. Bulk seeded 18-24 pound melons from Georgia were $8-9 per cwt.

The late-June situation doesn’t bode well for the weeks following the start of summer, said Bob Dietz, president of Matt Dietz Co. Ltd., Laredo, Texas. The company also has a Frisbee, Mo., deal that will start between July 1-4.

He predicts a bumper crop for Missouri, starting just as shippers see the typical seven to 10 day drop in movement as retailers ease off watermelon promotions following Independence Day.

OVERLAPPING DEALS

Dietz traced the oversupply and price drop to hybrids that cause producing areas to overlap, as well as weather that forced some Texas shippers to miss Memorial Day demand. Others point to simple overproduction, caused by last year’s markets.

A general rule of thumb in the industry, Dietz said, is that more than 900 loads shipped in one day spells disaster. According to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, more than 900 loads were shipped each day from June 16-18.

“There’s just way too many watermelons for this time of the year,” said Randy Smith, vice president of Midwest Marketing Co. Inc., Vincennes, Ind., which ships out of Florida, Georgia and Indiana. “We had such a good season last year in Georgia and northern Florida last year that the market is flooded with them. On top of that, we came in a week early in Georgia, and that hurt, too.”

Indiana’s crop will follow in the heels of Missouri, with the typical start date of July 15-20 being bumped up a week, said Marty Graham, owner of Graham Farms Melon Sales Inc., Avon Park, Fla., which has branches in Cordele and Carlisle, Ind.



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