IMMOKALEE, Fla. — The first domestic watermelons shipped to U.S. retailers should hit the market earlier than normal.
The entrance comes as the deal experienced tight winter supplies, shippers say.
South Florida normally begins harvesting watermelons in mid- to late April.
Mexico usually starts in March, a little ahead of Florida.
This year, however, the situations are reversed, said Brian Arrigo, president of Southern Corporate Packers Inc.
Because of an abnormally warm winter growing period, shipments from Immokalee are expected to begin as early as March 15, two weeks ahead of last year and the earliest ever for Southern Corporate Packers, Arrigo said.
“They look great,” Arrigo said in late February.
“We made it through the cold temperatures in early and mid-February. At this stage, we’re seeing a very good set of fruit and the vines are strong. There’s no disease. You couldn’t ask for any better growing conditions.”
Last season, Southern Corporate began harvesting March 26, its earliest until this season, Arrigo said.
Central Florida usually begins harvesting in late April and early May and South Florida and central Florida typically finish production in late May.
North Florida begins in mid- to late May and usually ends July 4.
In late February, McMelon Inc., a subsidiary of Lake Wales-based Mack Farms Inc., finished plantings.
The grower-shipper plans to begin harvesting in early May with full production coming on by mid-May, said Chandler Mack, vice president of operations.
Though Mack said retailers should expect full supplies for Memorial Day promotions, he said the market during February was seeing tighter offshore supplies.
“Supplies are really tight at the moment,” he said in late February.
“While some in South Florida plan to start in mid- to late March, that won’t be heavy volume by any means. It will be April before we start to see heavy volumes from Florida. If everyone makes a crop, I think there will be a good supply of fruit if we don’t run into any weather problems.”
In late February, Mack quoted offshore prices at 45 cents to 50 cents a pound, which he called similar to the same time last year.
On March 4, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of 46 cents per pound for cartons of Mexican red-flesh seedless watermelons size 4-5 and 44-46 cents per pound for size 6s.
In initial Florida harvesting before volume begins, Mack said prices normally can range from 25 cents a pound to 34 cents a pound.
A key element remains weather conditions in Eastern metropolitan regions.
“If those conditions are favorable for watermelon movement, we will have strong demand,” Mack said.
“Sometimes, there are not enough watermelons that can be harvested to fill that demand. When conditions become unfavorable, it can be a tough situation.”
Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., said offshore prices are high.
L&M started its north Florida plantings in late February and plans to finish plantings in mid-March, Lytch said.
He said the season’s early plantings look good.
Last season went well in terms of crop quality, demand and prices, he said.
Georgia typically begins production June 5-10.