A dearth of supplies in the western U.S. has watermelon prices zooming in that part of the country. The East, meanwhile, has seen near-normal pricing.

The latest market reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicate a wide gulf in pricing between east and west. As of July 3, red-flesh seedless watermelons out of California’s San Joaquin Valley were 24-26 cents for 35-count and 26-29 cents for 45-count, as well as 60-count. Meanwhile, red-flesh seedless watermelons from Georgia were 13-15 cents for size 36s; 15-16, 45s; and 16-18, 60s.

“Our markets are average in the East right now,” said Mike Martori, vice president of sales with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Stella Farms LLC, which has watermelon programs in Georgia, Indiana, Maryland and other Midwestern and East regions.

The dominant price is 16 cents in the East, which is “pretty normal, coming out of the holiday,” Martori said.

The West is a dramatically different story due to a decline in acreage in western Arizona and Southern California, extreme heat in that region this summer and a halt to Mexico’s season, Martori noted.

“As long as Mexican melons cross at Nogales, they’ll dictate the markets,” he said. “When Mexico finishes, then production shifts. You get melons only from western Arizona to Southern California in late June to early July.”

The Southwest has seen high temperatures near 120 degrees, in some cases, which hasn’t helped production, Martori said.

“When you’re exposed to that kind of heat, you’re not going to get good production from your watermelon crop,” he said.

An abundance of melons in Georgia has retailers out West scrambling to secure some of that volume, Martori said.

“That has happened,” he said. “Texas has not had a whole lot of production, so much of that has stayed in Texas. There have been shipments from Georgia going as far west as Colorado and possibly California, as customers tried to make up for the shortfall. Normally, you would not see Georgia fruit go west of Texas.”

The crop out West has been short for five or six weeks, said Rodney Van Bebber, sales manager with Mendota, Calif.-based grower-shipper Pappas & Co.

“Up here, you have a bit of a slower start,” he said. “A few guys are going. The pipeline is empty on the West Coast.”

That may remain the case until around July 20, Van Bebber noted.

“I didn’t have any watermelons for the Fourth of July,” he said July 5. “Most of ads were set up for 20-24 cents, and, on the open market, they went up to 30 cents. There’s just not a lot around.” 
He said that the situation was not likely to change in the next 10 days.

Supplies will remain tight until California’s Westside deal starts up in earnest in mid-July, Van Bebber said.

But, even then, there’s a potential problem, he said.

“You have a few start next week, but as they start, Phoenix is going to finish,” he said. “Historically, demand does fall off after the Fourth of July, but there’s still not enough supply.”

Prices likely won’t come down for some time, he said.