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Weather keeps watermelon production on track
RAYMOND, Miss. -- Good spring weather conditions in southeast Mississippi kept watermelon production on track.
Some growers in these southeastern counties, where most of the state’s watermelons are grown, are just beginning to harvest their crops.
“It’s been dry down here, so we got our fields planted on time, and the crop looks good,” said Heath Steede, Mississippi State University Extension Service agent in George County. “All of my growers irrigate, so dry weather is not a big concern. We had some cool nights early on that slowed the crop down a little, but it caught back up.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Crop Progress and Condition Report, 20% of Mississippi watermelons had been harvested as of May 31, compared to 1% at the same time last year. Crop quality also is favorable, with 82% in good condition, 14% in fair condition and only 4% in poor condition.
Although it is early in the season, George County producer Eddie Courtney said the weather has cooperated for him so far.
“We’re just getting started with the harvest of 30 acres of an early variety, but the crop is looking pretty good,” he said. “We’re in good shape if the weather stays dry. We’ve been getting some pretty heavy afternoon showers and are expecting more in the coming days that have us a little concerned. Too much rain will cause the melons to ruin in the field.”
Excessive rainfall and rising temperatures also increase the potential for disease problems, which is something growers haven’t seen much of yet.
“We’ve had a little disease pressure, but nothing out of the ordinary,” Courtney said.
Growers in Smith County are experiencing the same good conditions as growers in George County.
“Our crop is in good shape,” said Jeremy Maness, Extension agent in Smith County. “We’ve had a few more showers than George County this spring, but nothing excessive.”
Disease and insect pressure remain at usual levels for this time of year with harvest expected to begin in a few weeks, Maness said.
“The grower with the earliest producing crop told me the other day he won’t begin harvesting until around the 18th or the 20th of the month,” Maness said. “Our crop is on track. We’re just really early in the season right now.”
Steede and Maness said growers in their counties have not felt the impact of COVID-19 at this point.
“Labor-wise, watermelon producers have not had any problems,” Maness said. “Right now, labor consists of one worker who sprays the fields in the evenings. When harvest begins, you’ll have more workers in the fields.”
Prices likely will be higher than last year, Maness said.
“We’ve got out-of-state watermelons on the shelves now, and they are selling really well,” he said. “But they are high. That will drive our prices some, so we’ll probably see the price go up from last year.”