The California Westside cantaloupe and honeydew melon season has started with large sizes and good sugar content, but there's the potential for a production slowdown in mid- to late July.

"The crop looks really good," said Jim Malanca, co-owner and sales manager at Westside Produce Co., Firebaugh, "but there could be problems later this month."

Malanca said unusually low temperatures during much of June could cause some production problems for the last two weeks of July, but that shippers should be back on track by Aug. 1.

Westside Produce began packing July 2, with sizes about evenly split between 9s and 12s, Malanca said. When the crews move to the second field, sizes could be slightly smaller, he said.

The melon harvest at Perez Packing Inc., Firebaugh, began July 3, said Atomic Torosian, managing partner at Crown Jewels Marketing & Distribution LLC, Fresno.

Crown Jewels markets the Perez Packing melons for the first time this season.

"The fruit's beautiful. It has a nice golden finish, is heavily netted and has good sugar," Torosian said.

Sizes are peaking on 9s and 12s, he said.

Prices for San Joaquin Valley cantaloupes reported July 7 were substantially lower than year-ago f.o.b.s. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported half-cartons of 9s at $5.95-6.95 with 12s fetching $6.45-6.50.

At the same time last year, the USDA reported prices for half-cartons of 9s at $10.45-11.45 while the range for 12s was $10-10.45.

Harvesting at fields marketed by Mesquite Enterprises Inc., Visalia, began July 8, said Derrick Daniell, owner of Mesquite Enterprises.

The early fruit peaked on 12s, he said, followed by 9s and then 15s. He expects the sizing order to change as the volume increases.

"We should size up with plenty of 9s and 12s the rest of the season, and once we go to different varieties, we'll get some jumbo 12s," Daniell said.

The season's first melon cartons from Stamoules Produce Co., Mendota, showed a wide range of sizes, said salesman Demetri Karabinis.

"The melons look great with lots of 9s, 12s, 15s and 18s," he said.

Harvesting of the Stamoules Produce fruit started July 7.

At V. H. Azhderian & Co. Inc., Los Banos, picking of the company's conventionally grown cantaloupes was scheduled to begin July 13, said Josie Rodriguez, office manager. Organic field harvests began July 6.

"We're pretty much on target, and the quality is great with good sizing, mostly 9s and 12s," Rodriguez said.

The season is already winding down for some growers at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. Dan Andrews, owner of Dan Andrews Farms, Bakersfield, said he had been in full production for a few weeks and will finish up the early summer cantaloupe and honeydew deal by about July 17. The end-of-season melon production was delivering plenty of 12s and 15s but was a little short on 9s, he said.

The company has begun planting for the fall harvest, which should hit the market in late September or early October, Andrews said.

There had been speculation that high temperatures in early July would accelerate the germination of second plantings, which could lead to a late-summer glut. Not so, grower-shippers said.

"Cantaloupes like the hot weather," Daniell said.

The Perez Packing melon crop seemed to dodge most of the heat wave, Torosian said. When temperatures dropped back into the low-to-mid 90s the week of July 6, the change eliminated any concerns, he said.