California"s Westside melon growers and shippers describe the 2015 deal as a kind of paradox: They"re dealing with a major drought, but they also say growing conditions have been as close to ideal as they have seen in many years.

In general, the district refers to the western side of the San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys, including an area running roughly from the Patterson-Westley area to Mendota and Firebaugh.

"The weather is much nicer than last year. That much is certain," said Steve Couture, a partner in Kettleman City, Calif.-based Couture Farms.

He said the first melons were expected to come out of the fields as early as June 22, about a week ahead of normal.

That"s after planting the crop later than usual, he said.

"It"s coming much quicker than I expected, and looks very good," Couture said.

That, under drought conditions that have persisted since 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"It"s a terrible thing to say, but if you don"t have any rain, you can grow a beautiful crop if you can get the water from someplace else," Couture said.

Promotable supplies

Steve Patricio, president of Firebaugh-based Westside Produce Inc., as well as chairman of the Dinuba-based California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, said there would be promotable supplies for most of the 2015 season.

The Imperial Valley deal started in early May, and product was moving steadily out of that region leading up to the Westside deal, Patrichio said.

"In general, supplies are good, and I don"t see any letup over the summer," he said.

Quality looked good, he said.

The market is another issue, some shippers noted.

"The market is really, really poor in Mexico and Coachella, but hopefully in the next three weeks the markets will improve or nobody"s going to get any watermelons from the West Coast," said Wayde Kirschenman, president of Kirschenman Enterprises Inc., Edison, Calif.

Jim Pandol, president of Jim Pandol & Co., Delano, Calif., described the late spring melon market as "sloppy," with prices constantly changing.

"However, the feeling is prices will still be at a very promotable level into June, but it won"t be real low," he said.

As of June 2, according to the USDA, half-cartons of cantaloupes from California"s Imperial Valley and central and western Arizona were $4.50-8.95 for size 9s, $4-8 for 12s and $4-6.95 for 15s. A year earlier, the same product was $10.45-12.95 for size 9s, $9.95-12.95 for 12s and $7.50-9.95 for 15s.

On the watermelon side, 24-inch bins of red-flesh seedless watermelons from the Imperial and Coachella valleys in California and western and central Arizona were 10-12 cents per pound on 35-, 45- and 60-count.  At the same point in 2014, prices were 18-22 cents for 35-count, 18-20 cents for 45-count and 14-16 cents, 60-count.

Some harvesting typically  won"t get underway until around July 4 in some areas and a bit later for others.

Del Mar Farms, Westley, Calif. likely will start in the second week of July, said Brian Wright, sales manager.

"For us, it"s pretty normal. We"re more north than most guys by 60-80 miles, so we start a little later than some, but we also finished up the last couple of years in first part of November."

For Dos Palos, Calif.-based Legend Produce, the Yuma, Ariz., harvest was running earlier than normal, and a similar scenario was expected from the Westside crop, said Barry Zwillinger, a partner.

"We"ve had absolutely extraordinary growing conditions, from the time we planted the seed up to now," he said.

A cold snap just before Christmas virtually eliminated the likelihood of viruses or diseases that plagued last year"s crop, Zwillinger said.

"We"ve seen below-normal temperatures, which is ideal for growing melons," he said.

Zwillinger said he was anticipating his Westside harvest to start by late June.

 
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