California Westside melon growers say this season should be normal despite challenges.

Atomic Torosian, managing partner and co-owner at Crown Jewels Produce Co., Fresno, Calif., said acreage is down a bit this year, partly because of the dry winter.

“Water production is less than last year, but we’re OK for now. It affected production and what was planted in total acreage,” Torosian said.

He cited competition from other crops as another cause for the reduced melon acreage.

Still, Torosian said, the cantaloupe market so far has seen success in the desert regions and he is optimistic that will transition to the Westside.

“They aren’t finding any issues. We hope their movement success transfers to the start of our deal,” he said.

He also is hopeful that this deal’s prices will be higher.

“Prices were low last year. We were barely treading water,” Torosian said.

Torosian said the cantaloupe and honeydew deal should begin around July Fourth and last through September, possibly even into October.

“We have cantaloupes planted to harvest from the first part of July, maybe even before the Fourth,” said Jim Malanca, senior vice president and sales manager, at Westside Produce, Firebaugh, Calif.

He said last year the harvest was behind by 10 days or more, causing an unusually short July deal, with high prices.

“This year, if the weather holds out, we anticipate a more normal season,” Malanca said.

Dulcinea Farms LLC, Ladera Ranch, Calif., which offers a Tuscan-style cantaloupe along with several varieties of watermelon, also is hoping for a normal year despite last year’s listeria outbreak linked to cantaloupes from Colorado’s Rocky Ford region.

“We didn’t cut back cantaloupe acreage at all,” general manager John McGuigan said.

However, the company’s Tuscan-style cantaloupe is a different product from the variety that caused issues last year.

The company is running either on schedule or slightly ahead of schedule, McGuigan reported.

“It seems the season is a little ahead. We’ve had quite high temperatures in most growing areas now,” he said.

Still, Malanca says it is too early to get a good feel for the market.

“It’s still very early in the season. It’s pretty hard to say what’s going to happen because it’s still in the ground.”

This unpredictability makes it harder for companies to market and sell their product early in the deal.

“It’s very difficult to market cantaloupes. You have to be careful not to sell too many of one size since we don’t know exactly what the crop will do,” Malanca said.

Growers and shippers will need to settle into the deal after last year’s listeria scare, since consumer demand for this year’s deal is still a bit of an unknown.

“We’ve been out of production on cantaloupes since just after the Rocky Ford situation.” McGuigan said. “We’re just getting into it this week, and we’re interested to see what the market feels like and what the consumer pull-through is.”

Growers are optimistic about where the season will go from here, though.

“People love (cantaloupes), and they are a staple item for retailers in summer months,” Torosian said.

“Demand in Arizona has been good and we anticipate the same will follow from here on out. It seems consumers are returning to shelves to buy cantaloupes,” said Garrett Patricio, vice president of operations and general counsel for Westside Produce.

It seems even a major food safety scare can’t bring the melon market down for good.

“We’re planning on a good season,” McGuigan said.