MOORE HAVEN, Fla. — This year’s Florida watermelon season is running two weeks earlier than normal.

Florida watermelon shipments begin earlyWarmer-than-usual growing conditions accelerated maturities and is bringing bigger volume to the market.

Markets also remain higher than last year, grower-shippers report.

Lakeland-based Global Produce Sales Inc. started its Lake Okeechobee area watermelon production in Moore Haven April 10 and harvested its first day of promotable volume April 16, said Al Wroten, president.

South Florida volume typically doesn’t begin in earnest until early May.

One of Florida’s largest growers, Wroten said he plans to begin harvesting in Arcadia southeast of Sarasota on April 25.

Because of this spring’s early start, Wroten, president of the National Watermelon Association, Lakeland, said his operation may not last with supplies until Georgia’s May 20 start. Georgia typically begins production June 5-7 but like south Florida, experienced a favorable growing season, he said.

“This is as good a start as we have had in a long time,” Wroten said April 16. “We are nearly two weeks ahead of what we normally would do with volume. We’ve had no big rain, wind storms or freezes. Everything has been perfect.”

Immokalee-based Southern Corporate Packers Inc. began light harvesting south of Immokalee March 26, a couple of weeks earlier than normal.

Brian Arrigo, president, said he plans to transition to central Florida watermelon production in Bradenton in early May.

Florida watermelon shipments begin early“We are having one of our best starts ever,” Arrigo said April 17. “We seem to be having good supplies. There hasn’t been any overabundance out of any other areas and because of hail problems consuming Texas, supplies should be down the next month and help keep those markets strong and steady all the way through Memorial Day.”

Mark Paul, salesman and general manager for Adel, Ga.-based Borders Melons East, a part of Edinburg, Texas-based Borders Melon Co. Inc., planned to begin south Florida harvesting in LaBelle April 18.

Paul said he expects north Florida to begin production May 10, earlier than its normal late May start for the Memorial Day pull.

“As a whole, south Florida has a decent crop this year,” he said in mid-April. “The market is high and we need to get the market to come down a little to get the movement.”

In late April, grower-shippers reported 28-30 cents a pound for red flesh seedless watermelon.

On April 16, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported 24-inch bins per cwt. of red flesh seedless from south Florida selling for $28-30 for 45s and 60s selling for $28.

That’s higher than last year when the USDA in its first season report in late April reported 36s and 45s selling for $19-20 with 60s fetching $16-18.

In mid-April, the USDA reported 24-inch bins of 35, 45 and 60 counts from Mexico crossing into Texas selling for 28-30 cents a pound.