North Florida Watermelon Producers Could Start Planting This Week

Jim Rogers Watermelon

By Clint Thompson

North Florida watermelon producers are expected to start planting this week in the Suwanee Valley area. Warmer temperatures and the potential for high market prices early in the season are enticing growers to go ahead and start planting earlier than normal, said Bob Hochmuth, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) regional specialized Extension agent in Live Oak, Florida.

North Florida watermelon plantings
UF/IFAS researchers conducted a watermelon research trial at the Suwannee Valley Research and Education Center. Credit: Susannah Da Silva, UF/IFAS
Bob Hochmuth

“There’s a few that have indicated they plan to start planting (this) week,” Hochmuth said. “I have had a couple tell me that their plant delivery is scheduled for the week of (Feb.) 20. It’s plenty early. The high market early in the harvest season really pushes them to take extraordinary risks I would say.”

The potential for a late-season freeze event certainly worries growers in March and April. Producers have implemented warming measures in the past when temperatures dropped below 30 degrees Fahrenheit. These include the use of paper plates and Styrofoam cups. Hochmuth estimated between 1,500 and 2,000 acres were covered last year.

“The whole month of March can be wicked. The last two years we’ve actually had significant frosts after April 1,” Hochmuth said. “We’ve got a long ways to go. It’s the market that drives them to take these kinds of risks with planting this early.

“Most recent years when we’ve had freeze events, it has not wiped out entire fields. There were fields last year that had places that had to be replanted. We haven’t had one of those where it comes in and absolutely kills everything, but we certainly have had significant damage in the last two years. Some growers have gotten to be prepared in advance with some type of a frost protection strategy,” Hochmuth said.

Producers who plant this week are hoping for an early harvest in advance of the Memorial Day market. Hochmuth estimates that those growers could harvest as early as between May 5-10.