Perfect growing conditions this year could start Florida melons up to three weeks early, with good volume and quality throughout the season, growers say.

Florida watermelon production starts in the Immokalee region in mid-April and moves to central and northern Florida in mid- to late May.

Rain, winds and low temperatures that disrupted plantings and flooded fields last year have given way to warm weather - almost perfect growing conditions this year, said Brian Arrigo, president of Southern Corporate Packers, Immokalee, Fla.

Arrigo, whose company grows seedless, seeded and personal watermelons and cantaloupes, began harvesting in mid-March, about three weeks early.

"With the season starting earlier, we should avoid regional overlaps in harvesting. This will give us a smooth transition from one region to another, which should moderate prices," he said.

Arrigo said the company is looking at one of the biggest crops it's ever had.

Nick Leger, salesman for the McMelon label from Mack Farms, Lake Wales, Fla., echoed Arrigo's enthusiasm.

"So far this year we've had ideal weather conditions - almost as good as it can get," he said.

Leger said young melon plants can be stressed with excess rain or wind.

"Anything that puts stress on the plants can affect production," he said.

All in all, he thinks the company has had a good first half of the growing season. Located in central Florida, McMelon crops are scheduled to start shipping in early May, a little behind southern Florida growers.

As with watermelons, Florida cantaloupe is looking good.

Arrigo anticipates cantaloupe will be ready the first week of April, a couple of weeks earlier than normal.

Southern Corporate Packers' cantaloupe acreage is up over last year and the company is looking at a 50% increase in athena melon production as well as a 25% increase in Caribbean gold western cantaloupes.

"Not only have we increased our popular athena melon production, but we should be out in the market a couple of weeks earlier than others," he said.

Prices

On March 6, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $9.95-10.95 for half cartons of size 9 cantaloupes from Central America. A year ago, size 9 cantaloupes received $8.95-11.95.

Red-flesh seedless watermelons from Mexico received 24-26 cents per pound for 4s and 5s.

 
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