Watermelons and other Arkansas crops are expected to be good this summer. ( Schmieding Produce )

Arkansas grower-shippers expect solid crops this season despite some delays caused by low spring temperatures.

Amanda McWhirt, an extension specialist at the University of Arkansas, said most items have been pushed back by a week or two.

“Mid-April brought two weekends in a row of freezing temperatures to the state of Arkansas,” McWhirt said May 9.

Strawberry growers lost some blooms where row covers were touching the tops of plants. Overall the strawberry season has been late this year, particularly in the northern part of the state, but there is strong production. Blueberry growers suffered some major losses to early-season varieties in several major areas of the state during the April freezes, resulting in a delay to the start of the season for several growers.

“Blackberries also experienced some damage, but the crop as a whole was not as advanced as the blueberry crop when the freezing temperatures hit,” McWhirt said.

“Early planted melons and other vegetables transplants experienced cold damage in some parts of the state. This resulted in replanting or some anticipated crop delay or loss. Overall most growers delayed planting past normal target dates and are hoping more recent warm temperatures will push things along without too much of a delay in harvest.”

Patterson McDulin, key account sales executive for Springdale, Ark.-based Schmieding Produce, said May 13 the company is about a week to 10 days late this year. Warmer weather could help the crops catch up some.

Schmieding Produce expects to start watermelons July 4-10 and go through the first week of August. The company expects to have light volumes of corn the first week of July and run through the end of the month.

“Volume and quality are looking good up to this point,” McDulin said. “We expect another great season.”

Gary Margolis, president of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Gem Tomato & Vegetable Sales, which markets Arkansas tomatoes, also noted the delay.

“We’ve had an unusually wet and cool spring, just like everybody else around the country, unusual weather, and that’s set back the deal to some extent,” Margolis said.

“We usually try to be in the ground by about the 25th of March, fairly early, and we planted again this year, our first plantings the 25th of March, but cool weather came in and they got nipped with frost. So the first 10 acres were replanted. We’re fortunate enough to have backup plants.

“Since then the weather has clearly improved and conditions are nice,” Margolis said.

“Plants are growing, but the deal is going to be a little bit later than usual. Some years we get started the first of June, and it’s looking more like, possibly we’re thinking the 10th of June this year, because of the cool conditions and a slightly later planting date.”

The deal lasts about five weeks.

McWhirt estimated the state of Arkansas has roughly 1,200 acres of watermelons, 800 acres of tomatoes, and 150 or fewer acres of blackberries, strawberries and blueberries.

“Overall I think interest in specialty crop production, particularly high-value fruit crops, is increasing across several areas of the state,” McWhirt said.

“This increase spans from interest in starting or expanding large-scale operations to interest in small diversified operations looking at producing in high tunnels for local markets.”

While the weather is better now, freight rates could be the next headache for growers, an experience that may be shared across the U.S.

“Freight rates and time in transit have increased since last year,” McDulin said.

“We have an amazing transportation department working every day to predict where the market will be and securing carriers on all of our loads.”

The company has expanded that department to include more than 30 people in anticipation of issues with freight.