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US (GA): Late start to watermelon season
“Harvesting started about two weeks later than in the past,” said Greg Leger, owner of Leger and Son, Inc. He cited cold weather that delayed planting as the reason for the late start, and further delays came as a result of rain and cold temperatures throughout the Spring. In addition to delaying this year's harvest, the weather disrupted pollination, which could result in less fruit this year.
“Volume is not going to be as heavy as it has been the last few years,” said Leger. “Volume will likely be moderate, and we're probably not going to have fruit as large as we've had in the past.” Aside from that, Leger anticipates quality fruit with high sugar content.
A delayed start has brought less fruit to the market. Last week, as harvesting began, prices were higher than usual due to low volumes of fruit. While prices are usually around 17 cents per pound, noted Border Melons East's Mark Paulk, the start of this season has brought prices closer to 22 cents per pound.
“The market is above-average right now,” said Paulk. “It's been a slow start in Georgia.” Leger said that the slow start has made for high prices, but, more worrisome, it will likely mean that less of this year's crop will be in stores before the Fourth of July. That could be a problem for growers because prices for watermelons typically drop after the holiday.
“Normally, Georgia is about 80 percent done with watermelons after the Fourth of July,” said Leger. “But this year, I'm looking at about 60 percent done by that time.” But Leger also noted that prices tend to drop after the holiday because the market has been saturated by that point. With volumes of fruit being slow to come in this year, he hopes summer demand will remain strong throughout the prolonged season. While the season started late, it's also expected to last a little longer than usual, and Leger believes consumers will still buy melons as long as it's warm out.
“It seems demand follows the weather,” said Leger, “because people like to go out and picnic when it's nice out, and they'll buy watermelons. So if the weather's good, demand will be good.”
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