By Clint Thompson
North Florida’s watermelon crop is “pretty well done,” according to Bob Hochmuth, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) regional specialized Extension agent in Live Oak, Florida.
The intense heat in recent weeks helped accelerate the crop’s harvest across the region.
“I think we were on the way to winding down anyway but certainly the heat gave one more word of encouragement to wind up,” Hochmuth said. “I think a lot of guys were done even at the beginning of (last) week before the heat wave came. Prices dropped and we’ve been over these fields a number of times that I think it was that natural time to move on to other fresher areas. I think we’re pretty well wound up.”
Temperatures nearing or eclipsing 100 degrees Fahrenheit ripens watermelons quicker, especially if there is little to no cloud cover. Watermelons are also much more vulnerable to sunscald which can make them unmarketable.
“It can happen in a day or two under the right conditions without having adequate vine cover. Once they get a little sunscald on them, especially when the market is not strong, it’s hard to move those melons with any kind of blemish at all,” Hochmuth said. “It’s absolutely a double and triple whammy when we have a week like last week.
“I know this time of year when you get that kind of heat, you’re going to have a lot of watermelons on the market at one point in time across several states. It lets us take our turn to bow out.”
Hochmuth and other north Florida watermelon crop farmers are now assessing the season and the challenges that accompanied it; most notably the freeze event in March, excessive winds and sand blasting the watermelons early in the season and late-season diseases.
“I don’t think it was necessarily a great season. But I think the prices held strongly enough for the majority of the season where on farms where we had adequate or good yields that I think in those situations, we probably did pretty well in a really tough season,” Hochmuth said.