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Cloudless skies sweeten Mississippi watermelons
STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Watermelons need ample water to grow, but rains also contribute to disease pressure, and cloudy skies reduce the melons’ sweet taste.
David Nagel, a horticulturist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said dry conditions hurt the size of melons that were not irrigated, but their flavor should be excellent.
“Sunny skies help with sugar production, so all of the state’s watermelons should be very sweet and delicious this year,” Nagel said. “The lack of rain also reduces the disease pressure, which is a common challenge for our growers.”
Nagel said some timely rains helped dryland growers produce a great crop. Other nonirrigated fields that missed the rains produced fewer, smaller melons.
Smith County Extension agent Jeremy Maness said watermelons are slightly ahead of schedule with harvest beginning about two weeks before the Fourth of July and continuing past the holiday peak.
“Dry weather allowed timely planting,” Maness said. “With about half of the crop irrigated, the continued dry conditions mainly kept diseases to a minimum. Size and quality are good, as conditions have allowed growers to put out timely pesticide applications.”
Chickasaw County farmer James Earnest of Prospect Produce Farm is one of those lucky growers.
“We haven’t had any disease or insect problems this year,” Earnest said. “We were able to get a good stand established this year because we used transplants instead of seeds in the beginning.”
Earnest said they doubled their crop this year by planting 1,000 transplants instead of the 500 seeds they attempted last year. The acreage expansion replaced cantaloupes, which had not performed well in the past.
“We will go with transplants again next year but may put them out in mid-April instead of early April,” he said.
Earnest said he thinks most growers are selling watermelons for about the same prices as last year. Depending on the size of the melon, most consumers will pay between $5 and $8 each.