California melon quality high, but markets sluggishMelon growers in California report outstanding quality but surprisingly tepid demand for some varieties.

Turlock Fruit Co. Inc., Turlock, Calif., expects to ship cantaloupes and honeydews from the Westside through late September or early October, said Steve Smith, the company’s co-owner.

The forecast in mid-August was more of the same near-perfect weather growers have enjoyed throughout the summer, Smith said.

“We’ve had ideal growing conditions for high-quality cantaloupes and honeydews.”

Warm days, cool nights and low humidity have combined to deliver high sugars and overall outstanding quality this season, Smith said.

Cantaloupe sizes were peaking on 9s and honeydews on 5s in mid-August for Turlock Fruit, Smith said.

Eating quality this summer on cantaloupes shipped by Westside Produce, Firebaugh, Calif., is excellent, said Jim Malanca, senior vice president.

“It’s eating better than the brix reports,” Malanca said.

Normally buyers would be wary of fruit with just a 10 or 11 brix level, Malanca said, but that hasn’t been the case this summer.

“The flavor index is very good, but you can’t measure flavor.”

Legend Produce LLC, Firebaugh, Calif., will ship its Origami melons from the Firebaugh area through mid-October, said owner Barry Zwillinger.

Origami production in Arizona will likely begin about Sept. 25, he said.

Some growers have scratched their heads this summer trying to predict demand, Malanca said.

“Erratic is the way I would describe it.”

On Aug. 19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $6 for 1/2 cartons of cantaloupes 9s from California, comparable to last year at the same time.

Two-third cartons of honeydews 5s were $6-6.50, up from $4-5.

Except for one 10-day period this summer, volumes have been fairly steady, Malanca said. Demand, however, has been lower than normal, for reasons he couldn’t put his finger on.

Even during the period when volumes dropped, demand did not pick up. Fortunately, though, prices have not taken corresponding dips, Malanca said.

“The average price hasn’t been bad. It’s been a difficult marketing situation, but the overall prices are holding fairly steady.”

Malanca expects that to hold true heading into September.

Zwillinger said demand has been strong for Legend’s Origamis.

“Retailers are paying a high premium,” he said.

Origami prices will likely stay steady heading into September, because Legend has locked in prices with so many customers, Zwillinger said.