This winter was one of the warmest on record for the entire nation. According to weather reports, it wasn’t much of a winter at all, with record highs nationwide and many Southern states almost skipping the season entirely.
Melon growers are feeling that warmth and are set to kick off a strong season. The earlier onset of spring meant plants in some growing areas began going in the ground sooner, and the warmer days also positioned grower-shippers and retailers at an advantage.
“When it’s warm out, people associate it with summer and fresh fruit-eating,” said Lou Kertesz, vice president of sales and marketing for Fresh Quest Produce Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla.
Fresh Quest is one of the largest importers of melons from Central America, shipping cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon. Kertesz said the warm weather made consumers look to melons, especially when other commodities weren’t in full swing yet, which helped boost sales of melons earlier than expected.
“There’s a huge interest in the melon market right now.”
He expects to have consistent volume coming into the U.S. through May.
Brian Arrigo, president of Southern Corporate Packers Inc., Immokalee, Fla., said the watermelon market is excellent now and even was back in March.
He attributed that to quality crops and the unseasonably warm weather.
“Watermelons are the most weather-driven out of all produce. Tomatoes and bananas will move whether it’s hot or cold, but (watermelon) sales at retail aren’t there if there’s 10 inches of snow on the ground. They’ll move but not as fast,” he said.
Kertesz said retailers plan to market melons strongly through the rest of spring because there will be high volume flowing in and plenty of demand.
“Typically the week after Easter is slow, but ads are being put in place assuring ourselves that the next couple of weeks after will still be a good market,” Kertesz said.
Gordon Hunt, director of marketing and communications for the National Watermelon Promotion Board, Orlando, Fla., said Florida was the first to ship in early April.
“This is an earlier season than expected (because of the mild weather).”
In some years, he said, harvest didn’t start there until the beginning of May.
“It’s been a mild winter here on the East Coast,” said Matt Solana, vice president of operations for Jackson Farming Co., Autryville, N.C.
Solana said the company is two weeks early in harvesting and planting in some areas.