By Clint Thompson
Watermelon prices are holding strong for Southeast farmers, according to one South Georgia producer. Terrell Rutland believes extenuating circumstances could help extend the strong market, currently at 20 cents per pound, for growers an extra few weeks.
“Anything north got frost bit about the first of May. Florida is through so that kind of puts us in the driver’s seat right now,” said Terrell Rutland, who grows 50 acres in Tift County, Georgia and Cook County, Georgia. “Every year, the very first people to pick in Georgia might get 20 cents, but generally, the majority of the crop is sold around 15 cents. It’s good in that respect.”
It’s especially good for Southeast farmers since it appears their melons are the only game in town right now.
“(The Carolinas and the Midwest) always plant three or four weeks behind us but this year they planted, go two or three weeks and the frost killed them, and they planted again. That threw them another three weeks behind. I really wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t get some imported melons to catch some slack up,” said Rutland.
He began harvesting this year on June 4, the earliest he’s ever started.
“When they put on, they grew. They made melons quick. It was kind of shocking, I’ve never had none to grow off that quick. About half of mine, I do put on bare ground and I put about half of them on plastic. The bare ground melons are not ready yet. The cold really affected them a lot worse than it did the ones that were on raised plastic,” Rutland said.
Rutland expects to harvest three days per week through July 4.
Decrease in Acreage
Acreage is down in Georgia this year. According to Samantha Kilgore, executive director of the Georgia Watermelon Association, acreage is projected to decrease this year to 19,000 acres. It would mark a significant drop from previous years’ harvests. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, from 2016-2018, Georgia averaged a harvest of just more than 23,000 acres.
Rutland already projects additional acres next year, however.
“It’ll probably be many folks who want to grow watermelons next year where you can’t sell them for a dime a pound. It’s the way that usually works,” Rutland said.