Smaller, high-quality offshore melon crop expected

11/17/2010 02:24:38 PM
Andy Nelson

Central American melon volumes could be down as much as 20% this season. A dry growing season should mean excellent quality and peak sizing for melons that make it to the U.S.

Pompano Beach, Fla.-based Fresh Quest Produce Inc. expects to begin bringing in melons from Central America at the end of November, with volume shipments expected for Christmas, said Lou Kertesz, vice president.

Wet weather at the beginning of the growing season posed some threats, but Kertesz said for the most part they didn’t materialize.

“We’re on schedule,” he said. “There was a lot of talk about delays with all the rains, but fortunately we got everything in.”

Dry growing weather should mean excellent weather, with fruit peaking on the 9s and 12s U.S. retailers like, Kertesz said.

Industrywide, volumes should be down at least 15% from last season, continuing a trend that began in 2009, with Costa Rica and Guatemala seeing the biggest acreage reductions, Kertesz said. Compared to 2008, 2010 volumes could be down as much as 25%, he said.

“A lot of shippers have scaled back,” he said. “The last few years haven’t been that successful for some. We’re expecting a significant drop.”

Fresh Quest’s Central American melon volumes, however, should be up about 5% this season, Kertesz said.

Other shippers have found a hard time finding good melons tailored for Central America, Kertesz said. He said Fresh Quest’s investment in research and development was paying off.

Fresh Quest has had great success, for instance, with its Caribbean Gold harper-variety cantaloupe in Central America. Other growers have found it too hard to grow, he said.

The company will ship harper cantaloupes, honeydews and a significantly larger number of seedless watermelons this season, Kertesz said.

Rainy growing-season weather in Guatemala and Honduras meant delays and fewer seeds planted early for Ayco Farms Inc., Pompano Beach, Fla., said Ken Kodish, key account manager.

As a result, the first shipments won’t likely arrive in Florida until Nov. 22-23, about two weeks later than normal, Kodish said.

And personal watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe volumes will be lighter than usual for at least the first month of the deal, he said. In some early fields, just 60% to 70% of normal volumes were planted because of the rain.

“Volumes initially will be steady, but not heavy,” he said. “They’ll be steady through December, then up considerably in January.”

Volumes should pick up enough in the New Year for Ayco that by the time the deal winds down, in mid- to late May, total shipments should equal if not surpass last season’s 3 million boxes, Kodish said.

“We added acreage, and we should get some from that in the second cycle,” he said. The company’s second cycle of Central American melon production should begin in February.

Ayco expects a similar mix of personal watermelons, honeydews and cantaloupes this season from Guatemala and Honduras, Kodish said.

Brazilian grower-shipper Itaueira Agropecuaria SA expects to ship its specialty canary honeydews to the U.S. through about mid-March, said Rodrigo Lima, president of Key Biscayne, Fla.-based Crown International USA LLC, Itaueira's North American marketing partner.

While the quality of the high-end product is always good, this year it’s outstanding thanks to nearly perfect growing weather in Brazil, Lima said.

“You need to have very dry weather, and this year we haven’t had any rain,” he said. “The fruit is very, very sweet.”

The company expects to export about 100,000 to 150,000 10-kilo boxes of canary honeydews this season, which began in September, about the same as last season, Lima said.

In March, production shifts to an area of Brazil that hasn’t been cleared for U.S. exports, Lima said. The company can, however, ship from that region to Canada, providing that country with year-round availability.

Based on deals it made at Fresh Summit, the company has distribution partners in the central and eastern regions of Canada, and is looking for a partner in the western part of the country, Lima said.

Canada, unlike the U.S., does not impose an import duty on Itaueira’s melons, Lima said. The U.S. duty only runs through November each year, however, when domestic deals are more or less finished, he said.



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