By Clint Thompson
Southeast watermelon producers prefer weather conditions to stay as dry as possible during harvest time. Needless to say, this summer has been anything but ideal for growers in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
Persistent rains, increased disease pressure and diminishing market prices have added up to a challenging couple of months, says Josh Freeman, University of Florida/IFAS Associate Professor in Horticultural Science.
“I’m of the opinion that when conditions turn against you, especially a full-season crop, once you get a canopy developed and you’ve got a lot of vine out there, if you get into a stretch of unfavorable weather like this, there’s nothing you can do. Between gummy stem blight, anthracnose or downy mildew, even with the best fungicides at growers’ disposal, you can’t stem that tide, not when it rains every other day,” Freeman said.
Freeman said weather conditions have been even worse in Santa Rosa County, Florida. The Florida Weather Station puts that region at about four inches more rain than North Florida and South Georgia have had over the last 40 days. Freeman estimated that one grower had to walk away from 40% of his crop because of too much disease pressure. When it rains nearly every day and not much sunshine, there is no time to dry out for growers to apply fungicide sprays.
“Anybody that’s got late-season melons that they’re trying to get into now and even if they get into, you’re talking about having to pull buses through the field and everything else, it’s been a struggle,” said Freeman, highlighting current harvests in Cordele, Georgia and up into the Carolinas. “I think they’re going to struggle.”
Low Market Prices
Capping it off has been a rapid deterioration of the market. Freeman said the latest USDA statistics showed that 45-count seedless watermelons in Georgia were selling for $100.
“That’s no great shakes. If you’ve got a ton of volume, maybe. When the volume is questionable, I think it’s going to be problematic,” Freeman said.