Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on June 26, 2009. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Melon growers fight on despite weather's punch
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Fickle weather may have altered the production schedule for watermelons this year, but Mississippi growers will have plenty of the popular red fruit available for summertime eating.
“Growers started pulling melons last week and will be in full swing as the marketing season begins,” said George County agent Mike Steede of the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “The melons look good and have filled out well.”
George County melon growers planted 1,000 acres, and 90 percent of that total is irrigated. The cool night temperatures in early May slowed maturity by a week. Clear skies and hot weather, which melons need to develop optimum sweetness and size, arrived in June and remained for most of the month.
“George County growers normally begin to pull melons around June 10, but they had to wait until June 18 because the melons were not ready,” Steede said. “The heavy rains we had earlier in the season slowed their development.”
Those ill-timed rains also caused gummy stem blight, belly rot and anthracnose to appear in some George County fields. Growers were able to minimize disease pressure using a preventive spray program.
Melon sizes have come close to what is typically expected. Growers hope to sell melons weighing 22 pounds or more to farmers’ markets, roadside stands and peddlers who resell to these businesses. Growers were also happy with the “icebox melons” produced for grocery store chains and other retail markets. These melons, which weigh no more than 18 pounds, are so named because of consumers who prefer melons to comfortably fit inside a refrigerator.
Because harvest has just begun, George County growers have no idea what yields they might have. In 2008, they harvested 30,000 pounds to 40,000 pounds of melons per acre in irrigated fields.
“As a comparison, I’ve seen 6 acres of nonirrigated melons that probably won’t produce a good truckload because of the crazy weather,” Steede said.
Smith County Extension agent Jeremy Maness said his growers have the potential to harvest a good melon crop if rains stay away and temperatures stay hot. Growers planted 400 acres of melons this year, an increase of 100 acres from 2008. Most of this acreage is not irrigated, however.
Similar to reports from George County, some fields in Smith County had gummy stem blight. Like their counterparts in other areas, Smith County growers did preventive spraying to control the fungal disease.
“Our melons are looking good right now and will stay that way if we can get them out of the field,” Maness said. “The May rain slowed us down somewhat, but the melons will be ready when full harvesting gets under way.”
Most Smith County melons grown for roadside stands will finish within the typical range of 18-25 pounds. Depending on weight and variety, the melons will sell for $4 to $8.
In Wayne County, melon growers have not been as fortunate. Growers planted about 100 acres on nonirrigated land. Irrigation is costly for growers who do not have enough acreage for commercial production and certainly not affordable for homeowners. Installation of a water well can cost $10,000 or more.
“My growers are suffering because they had too much rain at the beginning of the production season and many don’t have enough rain to finish their crop,” said Wayne County Extension agent Allen McReynolds. “I had one grower tell me that he didn’t know what he would get out of his crop.”
Rain would help many Wayne County growers salvage production in some of their fields.
“There’s not anything we can do unless we have a good rain,” McReynolds said. “Melons are a good crop for south Mississippi because they pull in extra income and provide a cushion to get growers from one crop to another.”
Wayne County once had melon acreage that would rival many of its neighboring counties, but most growers decided to get out of commercial production. Younger growers have small patches of melons that they produce for local markets and small out-of-state peddlers. However, all is not lost for Wayne County’s melon crop as the rain situation could change.
“Despite our troubles, growers should have some good melons to sell locally,” McReynolds said.