WOODLAND, Calif. — Dynamic is the first in a line of new non-slip western shipper cantaloupe varieties from Syngenta Vegetable Seeds bred with both the retailer and consumer in mind.
The Boise, Idaho-based firm’s cantaloupes and warm-season vegetable crops were the focus of its annual Woodland station tour on Aug. 12.
Western shippers, the type of cantaloupe predominately grown in the West, have a shelf life of 10-14 days. But non-slip western shippers have a shelf life of at least 21 days and can easily go up to 28 days, reducing produce department shrink, Jorgensen said.
“You can now ship cartons to the East Coast, and they have enough shelf life where they can still sell the fruit,” he said. “I’m seeing a lot of fruit coming from the West this year in retail in the East.
“Now with Dynamic and the shelf life, you can actually ship this back to the East Coast and give (the retailer) two weeks of shelf life, if not three,” Jorgensen said. “It’s a big opportunity for Western growers to capitalize on the markets in the East.”
As western shipper cantaloupes near maturity, an abscission zone forms around the stem, which starts to dry out. At the same time, the plant can no longer transport sugars into the fruit.
When the melon is ready to pick, it slips off the vine, creating a clean, slightly indented circular area where the stem was — known as the “slip.”
But non-slip western shippers do not have the abscission zone and don’t slip when ready to harvest, Jorgensen said. The vine stays attached, and the plant continues to pump sugar into the fruit. Crews have to clip the melons to harvest them.
These types of melons may average 14-16 degrees brix whereas traditional western shippers run a few degrees less, he said.
The new types also have a more concentrated fruit set, which helps growers manage tight labor supplies. Rather than picking a field up to a dozen times, growers harvest two to three times, depending on the market, Jorgensen said.
One of the challenges has been educating retailers and consumers who are used to looking at the stem end and the slip to determine ripeness, he said.
The other has been differentiating non-slip western shippers from off-shore winter melons, which also are clipped, Jorgensen said.
“A lot of retailers associate the winter melons that have been clipped with bad taste,” he said. “It’s a pretty easy education process for the retailer. Just cut it open and have them taste it.”
The non-slip western shippers also have a similar appearance to traditional western shippers whereas most of the winter melons grown offshore resemble a small eastern cantaloupe.
In addition, these new types can be grown in Central America in the winter, Jorgensen said.
This season, close to 3 million cartons of Dynamics will have been harvested, with most of the production in the U.S., said Rakesh Kumar, melon breeder.
The variety is designed for the San Joaquin Valley’s main season, yielding mostly 9s and 12s.
MS 3010 is a similar variety but designed for the earlier part of the season, he said. It averages 12s and 15s and is expected to be launched as a named variety for the 2015 season.
MS 3093, another non-slip western shipper, isn’t quite as far along in the breeding process, Kumar said. The hybrid, designed for the hotter, later part of the season, will be put out in advanced trials this coming season.
Despite the newcomers’ advantages, both Jorgensen and Kumar said they don’t expect them to totally replace the traditional western shipper.