Starting several weeks late, buyers of Florida watermelon should expect tight supplies and higher prices until volume ramps up for the Memorial Day push.

Later Florida watermelon deal brings lower volumes and higher prices

Courtesy Southern Corporate Packers

Starting up to a month later than normal, buyers of watermelon should expect short supplies and higher prices until Florida volume ramps up for the Memorial Day push.

January and February freezes delayed plantings and cooler March and April temperatures prevented south and central Florida crops from growing, delaying the season for up to a month for some shippers.

“Hitting Memorial Day (May 31) will be tricky,” said M.G. Ford, president of M.G. Ford Produce Inc., LaBelle, Fla. “There will be a lot of watermelons cut during the Memorial Day weekend holiday and afterwards. We will have supply for the holiday but not an oversupply.  The abundance of supply will hit in June.”

M.G. Ford Produce, which grows in the Punta Gorda, Fla., area, plans to begin harvest by May 8 with light volume running through May 15.

Brian Arrigo, president of Southern Corporate Packers Inc., Immokalee, Fla., said late April and early May daytime temperatures have exceeded 90 degrees, helping fruit maturity.

Like Ford, Arrigo expects to begin harvest May 5 with heavy production planned by May 20, about three weeks later than last season.

Usually, Immokalee-area growers begin shipping in mid- to late April with movement running through late May.

“We will have a late start but the melons are looking fantastic,” Arrigo said May 2. “The quality looks really well and the weather is finally cooperating with us.”

Transportation, however, could be a wildcard, with trucks in short supply. There may not be enough to haul May volume, Arrigo said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in early May wasn’t reporting Florida watermelon prices but said it expects to release the first f.o.b. report by May 17.

Arrigo quoted prices as high as 30 cents a pound for Mexican watermelon.

In early May, the USDA reported these per-pound prices for 24-inch bins of Mexican watermelons crossing in Texas: red flesh seedless type 35-45 count sold for 28 cents and 60-counts were 24 cents.

Last year in early May, the USDA reported cartons of Mexican watermelons (red flesh seeded) 28-45-count were 16 cents and red flesh seedless, 35- to 60-count, were 20 cents. Watermelons from Florida,

For Florida watermelons, the USDA reported 24-inch bins per cwt. red-flesh seeded-type 35s were $18-19 and red-flesh seedless 45s were $22-23; 60s were $22.

Though supplies are low, Rick Sullivan, president of William Manis Co. Produce Marketing, Plant City, Fla., said demand hasn’t been as strong as usual.

He said Manis plans to begin harvest May 12.

“I think it will be very tight for Memorial Day,” he said May 4. “I understand there are other growers that won’t get started until a week after we do (on May 17). There are some melons I have heard that won’t get started until the week of or week after Memorial Day.”

Sullivan said Manis plans to harvest in Arcadia through early June and start its north Florida production near Marianna June 7, with volume through July 4.

The north Florida growing region of Wildwood, which normally begins harvest May 20, may be up to a week late but not as tardy as south and central Florida harvesting, Ford said.

Arrigo said Southern Corporate Packers expects to start north Florida harvest in Trenton on time on May 20.

Tifton, Ga., the state’s southern growing region, is expected to begin harvest a few days earlier this season, Ford said.