By Clint Thompson
A handful of watermelons were harvested last week in North Florida. More will be picked this week. It is the earliest that a significant portion of the crop has been harvested in the Suwanee Valley area, believes Bob Hochmuth, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) regional specialized Extension agent in Live Oak, Florida.
“Every day we’ll get a few more that will start and a few more that will start. I think by the beginning of next week we’ll have a lot of the farms that will be in full swing,” Hochmuth said. “I think there’s been years in the past where maybe one here or one there (is harvesting), but I would say for this many fields to be harvesting this early, at least for the years that I’ve been involved with it, this is the most fields this early that have been harvested.”
The early harvests correlate to the early plantings that producers were able to capitalize on. Warm and dry weather conditions that were prevalent during multiple weeks in late February and early March provided growers the opportunity to follow through on planting earlier than expected this season. Unseasonably warm temperatures allowed growers to get in the fields and plant, where maybe in past seasons, they would not have been able to do so.
“It all goes back to those really, really warm three weeks at the end of February and the very beginning of March, and if they could get transplants, the window at that time looked pretty open. There were a lot of plants that were planted,” Hochmuth said. “There were a lot of farms with 300 or 400 acres that were done planting by March 1. The whole season was unusual in that regard because of how warm it was back in the middle of February to the first weekend in March.”