(May 30) Watermelon, berries, and stone fruit — often cornerstones of Fourth of July promotions — should kick off the holiday with a bang with ample supplies, shippers said, but sweet corn shipments might be held slightly in check by labor shortages.

Shippers said the quality is right on fruits and vegetables. Bainbridge, Ga., sweet corn might be hampered by a lack of labor, and watermelon f.o.b.s would likely be lower than last summer, when rain led to higher prices leading into the harvest.

“Who knows what’s going to happen by (late June), but we look like we’re short on labor, and we’re going to be short right on through that period,” Mike Justice, sales manager at Hurley, N.Y.-based Gill Farms Sales LLC, said May 25.

Gill Farms started harvesting in Bainbridge in mid-May and plans to ship from there into July.

Justice said he hasn’t had to pass on fields because of labor shortages, like some Belle Glade, Fla.-based growers did this spring, but he expects a lack of field workers will tighten Fourth of July volumes. Four-for-a-dollar sales might be harder to come by at supermarkets this year, he said.

“Instead of being in an oversupply situation or a very cheap product, it’s going to be somewhere in the medium price range,” Justice said.

WATERMELONS

The Cordele, Ga., watermelon harvest probably won’t see the same shortage, growers said. Markets could be lower than last season, said Greg Leger, partner in Leger & Son Inc., Cordele.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on May 23 reported bins of seedless 35-count melons from Florida were $12-13 and 45-count seedless melons were $14-15. At the same time last year, those watermelons were $18-19.

“I think if we have good weather and generate movement starting on June 15, two or three weeks prior to the holiday, the acreage is here and the quality looks good,” Leger said.

The Cordele harvest should start by June 5-10, he said. If late May weather trends continue — temperatures reached 96 degrees May 24 — the crop will be ready the first week of June.

As in Florida’s northern crop, the Georgia crop should bring a variety of sizes, including a good supply of the 45-count melons preferred by consumers, Leger said. Overall tonnage could be down from original estimates, because of wind and a lack of water, but there will be enough to satisfy holiday needs.

M.G. Ford, owner of M.G. Ford Produce Inc., La Belle, Fla., said he plans to begin the Cordele harvest the second week of June, shipping through mid-July.

BERRIES, STONE FRUIT

California fruit crops are poised to take center stage for Fourth of July promotions, despite early season supply hiccups brought on by cold and rain.

The Watsonville strawberry harvest should spike in mid-June, said Stephanie Hilton, marketing director of Beach Street Farms, Watsonville.

That includes raspberries and blueberries, although strawberries are the main driver, she said. Although 1-pound clamshells are the most popular packaging option, Hilton said club stores have influenced the overall retail sector with larger packs.

Although California’s stone fruit season was set back by up to two weeks by weather, industry analysts predict the overall volumes to drop less than 2 million boxes from last season’s 51-million-box crop.

San Joaquin Valley shippers expected to be in full production of peaches and nectarines by late May and plums by early June.