The open ground Spanish watermelon harvest is now in full swing in various production areas. The cool and rainy weather in much of central and northern Europe is keeping the demand low, and the sector is also affected to a lower extent by the loss of much of the Horeca channel.
Alimer, the largest agricultural cooperative in the Region of Murcia, is currently working in the watermelon campaign. With farms located throughout Murcia, it hopes to produce around 58 million kilos of watermelons this year. From May to September, this Lorca-based cooperative supplies markets across Europe with different varieties grown in the open ground, both in the conventional and organic segments, adapting its production to new consumer trends.
“The quality of the fruit this year is extraordinary; however, we are dealing with low demand; probably a consequence of the current weather in Europe. The weather is a very important factor for watermelon consumption. Forecasts point to it improving, but the truth is that it has been far from ideal so far in July,” says Jesús Abenza, commercial director of Alimer.
Despite the fact that this year's watermelon acreage in Spain is expected to be reduced by 10%, the commercial director of this cooperative says that Murcia hasn't recorded a considerable drop. “The watermelon acreage has remained stable in the Region and the volume and number of hectares will be similar to those of the previous season. Still, the way in which the fruit is cultivated or how it is marketed has changed. It is more and more scheduled, and there is less and less production from individual producers who do not have the support of a marketing company.”
“Years ago, Alimer understood that it was necessary to provide a global service to watermelon buyers. We are possibly the first producer of yellow watermelons, harvesting around 3,000 tons. We also grow seedless mini watermelons and mini watermelons with micro seeds, supplying between 8,000 and 9,000 tons each season. Furthermore, we produce around 4,500 tons of organic watermelons. The rest of the volume corresponds to the black and white varieties,” says Abenza, who stresses that the storms that hit the Levante in the spring have had little impact on the volume that the cooperative will harvest.
One of Alimer's most notable commitments has been to have an organic production of this summer fruit, which it also markets in seedless and mini varieties. “This is the fifth season with us working with organic watermelons. We are very happy and we keep expanding because they do really well. However, we are limited, since the amount of land available is scarce,” says the commercial director. “We started in this segment five years ago. It was late, but I think we were on time."
Watermelons, just like other fruit and vegetable products, have been affected by the impact of the pandemic. According to Abenza, national sales in supermarkets have dropped due to the fewer number of promotional actions, and big traditional sales channels, such as the hospitality sector and the street markets, have also been lost and are only just starting to resume their activities.
"I want to be optimistic and I expect that when the weather improves, the demand will increase and there will be less pressure on watermelon sales," says Jesús Abenza.