Table-to-farm approach will create healthier U.S. melon supply chain

Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientists at the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center in College Station are using a “table-to-farm” approach to create a safer, healthier and more sustainable melon supply chain in the U.S. by considering consumer preference at the dinner table.

Leading the team is Bhimu Patil, Ph.D., Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Food Science and Technology interim department head and Regents Professor, Bryan-College Station. Patil’s team is using a multi-pronged approach to improve breeding, bolster the consumption of regionally produced specialty melons and strengthen the competitiveness and sustainability of the U.S. melon industry.

The research has been supported since 2017 by a  $4.4 million grant  by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s, USDA, National Institute of Food and Agriculture. USDA-NIFA has also designated  the Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center as a National Center of Excellence on Melons.

Consumer first 
The center has conducted extensive studies and surveys showing that looks, taste and nutritional value are the three main factors consumers consider when purchasing melons. So, the team is focusing its melon breeding efforts toward satisfying consumer demand. Specifically, the team seeks to develop new melon cultivars with enhanced nutrition and flavor.

“Starting with consumers should also help producers. If the new melon varieties lead to increased consumption and demand by consumers, financial returns should increase for retailers and producers,” Patil said.

The team is also working to develop region- and cultivar-specific agronomic practices and technologies to improve the melons’ environmental stress resistance, production efficiency and food safety attributes. For example, the researchers aim to identify crucial control points and develop pre- and post-harvest strategies to minimize microbial contamination.

Producers believe the approach is the right direction. “Table-to-farm is a great approach on determining what our industry needs to do to improve consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Little Bear Produce president Jimmy Bassetti.

Better tasting melons
Melons come in a wide range of flavors, and each fruit’s flavor is due to a signature assortment of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. To understand how VOC profiles develop, the researchers performed metabolomic and transcriptomic analysis of two cantaloupe varieties over the course of fruit development.

“We try to obtain chemical signatures for fruit maturity, fruit health and levels of enzymes. We can then identify changes in signatures from various cultivars and geographic locations that will, when combined with metabolite profile analysis, indicate the key components of making great aromatic flavors in melon fruits,” said Hisashi Koiwa, Ph.D., Texas A&M Department of Horticultural Sciences professor.

The research helped identify shifts in VOCs that coincide with the expression of specific factors like fruit ripening. The results are key in helping researchers create new cultivars that live up to consumer taste and nutritional value expectations.  

For more information:
Chelsea McCall
Texas A&M AgriLife Research 

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