Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on June 24, 2002. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information.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.
State's melon harvest suffers, remains sweet
By Jeanie Davidson
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The quality and quantity of Mississippi's melon crop this year may have depended in part on growers' use of irrigation.
Many growers in Greene County, one of the state's leaders in fruit production, use irrigation and black plasti-culture to produce melons. These costly and time-consuming techniques help prevent sunburned or misshapen melons and accelerate harvest by about two weeks, but growers need higher sale prices to offset the expense.
"We have a terrific crop of melons so far due to weather and irrigation" said Mark Gillie, Greene County Extension agent. "The tremendously dry weather has lowered the incidence of fungi. Also, the sweetness of melons is dependant on the variety and the water ratio. Too much watering may lead to melons that are inferior in size and taste."
Smith County Extension agent Charles Waldrup said his county has between 800 and 900 acres in melon cultivation.
"Many growers in this county do not irrigate, and a cool snap pushed harvest time back a week. I'd rather we have hot, dry weather than too much rain. Dry weather makes melons sweeter," Waldrup said. "We were at the peak of our harvest by the third week of June."
David Nagel, Extension horticulture specialist, said Mississippi growers tend to get better prices early in the season because their melons are some of the first on the market.
"Watermelons generally sell for 10 cents per pound during the first week of May," Nagel said. "After that, prices decrease by 30 percent, which is significant. By the second week of July, even Indiana has watermelons, so prices drop even lower."
Growers in George, Greene and Smith counties said the cold snap between May 20 and 27 and this summer's dry heat caused the decrease in melon growth. People who enjoy eating melons need not be discouraged, though, because there are advantages to a dry growing season.
"Dry air is a plus if you use irrigation because there is less plant disease," Nagel said. "I think plant diseases, especially foliar diseases (those which attack the leaves of plants) inhibit plant growth more than anything else, including insects."
Nagel estimated the yield for this year's irrigated watermelon crop to be between 40,000 and 50,000 pounds per acre. The estimated cantaloupe yield has increased slightly to 20,000 pounds per acre.
Mississippi's melon prices are determined by crops grown in southern Georgia and northern Florida. Melon yields for these areas decreased slightly this year because of dryness. Prices are expected to remain similar to last year's.
About 5 percent of this year's watermelon yield included Triploid, or seedless, watermelons. This type is relatively new for Mississippi producers, but interest has been growing in recent years.