The end of imported melon deals and the beginning of the domestic season could bring strong demand for high-quality desert product from California and Arizona.

Firebaugh, Calif.-based Westside Produce Inc. expects to begin shipping cantaloupes from the Salt Sea region about May 20, with volumes peaking in time for Memorial Day (May 25), said Steve Patricio, partner.

Once the Central American deals wind down, movement could improve for the desert melon deal, Patricio said.

"Winter has been a little tough with the offshore deals, but there seems to be a lot of interest (in the domestic deal) starting up," he said. "There seems to be some good demand. We're excited about the crop."

On April 28, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $9 for half-cartons of cantaloupes size 9 from Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica, down from $13.85-14.85 last year at the same time.

Twenty-four inch bins of 45-60 count red-flesh seedless watermelons from Mexico were 16 cents per pound, down from 20-22 cents last year at the same time, according to the USDA.

Patricio expects normal volumes and good quality out of the desert this season.

Yuma, Ariz.-based Sandstone Marketing Inc. plans to begin shipping cantaloupes and honeydews from the Yuma area about May 18, right on time, said Milas Russell Jr., president.

Mixed melons should follow in late May, slightly earlier than usual, Russell said.

Despite being windy, the growing season also featured temperatures in the second half of April conducive to good quality and size profile, he said. Sandstone's acreage is about the same as last year.

Sundance General Partnership, a Coolidge, Ariz.-based watermelon grower that supplies fruit marketed by Bakersfield, Calif.-based Sun World International LLC, expects to begin shipping about June 8, said Gene Coughlin, a Sun World commodity director.

High winds this spring could limit volumes at the beginning of the deal, but by the second half of June, Sundance expects normal peak volumes, Coughlin said. The desert deal should start to wind down by mid-July, he said.

Offshore spring markets could bode well for the domestic market, he said.

"I've heard imports have been fairly steady, marketwise," he said. "As the deal transitions into California and Arizona, supplies will be down and prices will go up. Then as supply builds, the market will come off."