By Clint Thompson
University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) Extension agents are conducting on-farm trials this year to help watermelon producers be more efficient with their resources.
Tyler Pittman, UF/IFAS Extension agent in Gilchrist County, explains what north Florida producers can expect from some of the research trials.
“Here in Florida, one of our hottest topics is always nutrients, nutrient conservation and irrigation and irrigation efficiency,” said Pittman. “A lot of our projects focus on that, such as controlled release fertilizers and precision irrigation. Those are some of the things that we’re taking from research that happened at (the research station) and putting them into practice on the farm with cooperating producers.”
Pittman estimates that there are between 15 and 20 watermelon farmers in Gilchrist County in any given year with about 2,000 acres. The majority of north Florida watermelon acres is centered in Gilchrist, Levy and Suwanee counties, usually about 5,000 to 10,000 acres.
But if growers are to remain sustainable for the foreseeable future, they’ll have to be more efficient with resources like water and fertilizer. It’s especially important in a time when input costs have increased as drastically as they’ve had.
“Especially with the way things have changed over the past year, a lot of these growers’ focus has been and still is conservation and protection of our natural resources and water quality, not only for agriculture but for other things as well. With developments over the past year and increasing prices, things like nutrient efficiency and water efficiency take a whole new meaning to folks,” Pittman said. “It could mean saving you thousands on your crop this year or making it where you don’t lose money and make a profit. It has a different impact than it might have had in other years.”