By Doug Ohlemeier, The Packer
Burned by multiple freezes and unseasonably cold temperatures, south Florida growers expect to send fewer watermelons to retail shelves during the early part of this year's spring deal.
The weather challenges could mean smaller pre-Memorial Day volume, as well as some later-than-normal shipments.
Buyers should also expect to pay higher prices during the early part of the deal.
Grower-shippers, however, in late April said they expected the deal to improve by mid-June and expect reasonable volume for the July 4th market.
The mid-February freezes harmed southern Florida watermelons that were planted for late April production, said Mike Gobble, sales manager for Jackson's Farming Co., Autryville, N.C., which grows and ships melons from Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.
Promotable volume that normally hits by May 10 likely won't likely arrive until a week later this season, he said.
Instead of having two weeks to load Memorial Day volume for chain stores, growers may have only one week. That could cause a pre-Memorial Day backlog, Gobble said.
"There are none in the pipeline now," he said. "All of the sudden, you will have to put melons in to fill the pipeline and do replenishment. Until the peaks in the market hit, the supplies will just not be there. That should mean prices should stay up."
Watermelons in late April were selling for higher-than-normal prices during the early season.
Greg Leger, president and partner in Leger & Son Inc., Cordele, Ga., quoted 28-30 cents a pound for red seedless from south Florida.
Because shipments were in too few hands, the U.S. Department of Agriculture didn't report Florida watermelon prices in late April.
While red seedless crossings in south Texas were too low to set a market on April 24, the USDA on April 17 reported Mexican melons sold for 32-34 cents a pound for seedless type 4s, 32 cents a pound for type 5s, and 28-30 cents a pound for 6s. Seeded melons April 24 crossing at south Texas sold for 22-24 cents a pound for 24-inch bins of large 35 counts and bins of medium 45 counts.
In early May last season, by way of comparison, Texas crossings sold for 20 cents a pound for 24-inch bins of red-flesh seedless mediums 45 count, small, 18 cents for 60 counts; seeded 35 counts went for 18 cents a pound.
Leger said he expects prices to fall to the lower-20 (cents-a-pound) range during the weeks preceding Memorial Day.
"Everyone should be okay with supplies," he said April 24. "There's just not going to be an abundance of fruit at the start of the deal (from south Florida) as their normally is."
Leger said he expects his Arcadia, Fla., production to start by May 5, similar to normal years.
Leger was forced to replant twice after cold temperatures, high winds and sand blasted much of the foliage off his south Florida plants.
The region, he said, should provide lighter than normal volume during its start but should pack steady volumes into Memorial Day.