University of Florida/IFAS Extension agents provide producers key information in a timely fashion through the Weekly Watermelon Update.
When an issue emerges – like gummy stem blight for example on May 10 – Bob Hochmuth, a regional specialized vegetable Extension agent and 11 other Extension agents in the Suwanee Valley region, activate an alert system that informs growers and managers of approximately 50 watermelon farms about the potential threat and how to combat it.
“When we have a potential outbreak of a disease, like gummy stem blight, we act fast to give growers the unbiased, science-based information on the disease and best practices for controlling it,” Hochmuth said. “We put out the Weekly Watermelon Update every Monday, but sometimes we will send multiple messages a week when we’ve identified an issue that growers need to address right away.”
Florida is the country’s top watermelon producer. Agents use this time of year to visit local watermelon fields to scout for diseases and pests and test the plants’ sap to ensure nutrient levels are right.
Watermelon is grown across Florida, but more than a third comes from the Suwannee Valley. Hochmuth is the assistant director of the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center’s regional campus.
“The farmers of the Suwanee River Valley Tri-County area are tremendously lucky to have very willing and active county Extension agents that, through their collaborative efforts, work diligently to help us improve our farming practices,” said Laura Land of Jody Land farms.
In addition to disease and pest information, the weekly update includes the latest news about weeds, pollination, weather, irrigation, food safety, field days and ongoing research projects.
For Courtney Davis, of Gowan Seed Company, the weekly update provides insights for allied agricultural industries as well.
“I find the update is useful because it gives me an overview and summary of what is going on with North Florida when I’m not able to get up there every week myself,” Davis said. “The updates not only give an overview of North Florida conditions but also recommendations for problems you encounter as well. I like to hear about the progress of the crops, anything that we need to be aware of and solutions to our problems that are practical real-world solutions.”
The Florida Watermelon Association has been key to the strengthening network of Extension and industry professionals, Hochmuth said. For example, the association has recently supported the publication of a new pocket-size field guide that can be used on the farm to identify diseases, pests and other issues.
“In all my years with Extension — 40 years — I’ve never been so deeply involved in network like this. It’s been really rewarding to be a part of,” Hochmuth said.