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Watermelons, blueberries offer color for holiday meals
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Mississippi’s sunny skies are producing sweet watermelons and blueberries just in time for Fourth of July tables.
David Nagel, horticulturist with Mississippi State University’s Extension Service, said most of the state’s fruit crops saw very little rain as they approached maturity. Fortunately, many of Mississippi’s commercial watermelon and blueberry plots have irrigation and plastic mulch to help protect plants from droughts.
“Watermelons in the south without irrigation are suffering from a lack of water,” he said. “Growers in north Mississippi first had too much water and then too little.”
Nagel said clear skies promote sugar content, making sweeter fruit.
“Watermelons will be smaller in dryland fields, but irrigated melons will be a good size and sweet,” Nagel said. “Harvesting started in Smith County a couple weeks before the Fourth of July.”
Chickasaw County Extension director Scott Cagle said local watermelon growers faced weather challenges at planting time.
“Rains delayed our largest watermelon producer, but he put out transplants later, and that gave plants a jump on growing. The heat really helped the plants mature quickly,” Cagle said. “Another grower, who planted from seed, managed to plant sooner, but they didn’t grow as fast. Both growers will have decent yields in time for the Fourth of July, and prices are good.”
Wayne Porter, Extension area horticulturist based in Meridian, said the hotter-than-normal temperatures pushed fruit to maturity ahead of schedule. The lack of rain has helped keep disease pressure down.
“Most commercial blueberry growers have irrigation, so they had good fruit set and yield,” he said. “Because the berries are maturing quickly, growers have had a challenge getting the crop harvested before it’s too mature.”
Porter said growers are getting good prices for locally grown blueberries. Most of Mississippi’s competition comes from Georgia and North Carolina.
“Prices have held up since south Mississippi growers started harvesting in early May,” he said. “In Wayne County alone, with at least 360 acres in blueberries, growers can bring in $3 million in one year.”
Porter said new varieties and growers’ abilities are extending the state’s harvest window.
“Mississippi will be harvesting blueberries through July and early August in northern counties, as different varieties and areas of the state reach market,” he said.