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Agribiz: Melon crop for 2014 looks good

POSTED: July 17, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Tradition in the South is important, and of all the summertime traditions like beach vacations, family reunions and going to the farmers’ market, finding the perfect watermelon is a real treat for most of us.

It’s always a gamble when you buy one because you just really don’t know what you are going to get as far as quality.

For Georgia watermelon farmers, Mother Nature and economics have played into their favor this year.

Good yields, reasonable prices early in the season and low disease pressure have Georgia’s watermelon crop producing sweet results, says one University of Georgia vegetable horticulturist.

“Typically, for overhead irrigated growers in the Tifton area, we’re in the 40,000-50,000-pound range for watermelon yields, but I’ve heard a number of reports in the 60,000-pound range per acre, which is good,” said Tim Coolong, who is based on the UGA Tifton Campus. “Prices at the start of the season were pretty strong. Growers that had melons available then did fairly well and helped make up for last year.”

Last summer’s crop left a bitter taste in most farmers’ mouths. Steady rains soaked watermelon acreage and brought unwanted pests and diseases that severely damaged fields.

“I would say for vegetable farmers across the board (because you have to irrigate almost every vegetable crop), most growers would prefer weather to be hot and dry rather than cool and wet because they know they can irrigate when they need it. Therefore, you’re not going to have to deal with all the disease issues,” Coolong said.

A healthier crop resulted in a boost in prices during the first couple of weeks. Coolong said the price dropped a couple of weeks ago, which is common after July 4 when demand is lower.

Also contributing to the recent price drop are watermelons coming into the state from South Carolina. With competition, there is a glut of produce for sale at farmers markets and local produce stands. Coolong added that most of the state’s watermelon crop will be winding down either this week or next.

According to UGA’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, watermelons generated $159.5 million in farm gate value in 2012 on 18,137 acres. Watermelons account for 17.05 percent of the state’s vegetable crop. Tift County leads the state with $20 million from watermelon production, followed by Crisp County at $17.4 million and Wilcox County at $15.6 million. For more information about commercial watermelon production, see extension.uga.edu/agriculture/ag-fruits-vegetables.

Source: Clint Thompson is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences based in Tifton.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears biweekly on Thursday’s Business page.



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