(June 17) KENNETT, Mo. — The early bird may often nab its prey, but Midwest watermelon growers – who expect to start shipping after the July 4th weekend – hope their late crop will catch an open market this year.

Unseasonably cool and wet weather throughout the region is expected to slightly cut yields and delay harvest by as much as two weeks in some areas.

Bud Henderson, president of Kennett-based Semo Produce Inc., said yields, expected to be slightly below the norm, will be down from last year’s high totals. He expects to start harvesting around July 10, a whole 10 days later than average, and reach peak season a week later.

Henderson blames the damp, cool weather on both shortening and delaying his crop, but says it may not end up hurting too badly.

“We normally spend a lot of money trying to get to the July 4th market, but a majority of our watermelons will come out later than that this year. If (competitors) can get theirs out of the way before we start, it will help them and us,” Henderson said.

As far as quality, Henderson said most of his fruit will be good. While they have had some damage, most of his watermelons are on higher ground, where floodwaters can’t hurt them, he said.

In mid-June, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported the following f.o.b.s for south Texas watermelons: 24-inch bins of red flesh seedless 45 count and 35 count size (about 15- to 18-pounds) for mostly $14 per cwt., and 36-inch bins of red flesh seeded watermelons 50 count (about 18- to 24 pounds) at mostly $12 per cwt.

These prices are close to figures reported in mid-June last year, when the USDA based f.o.b.s on weight instead of count. Then, the same sizes were selling at mostly $12-14 per cwt. for red flesh seedless watermelons and mostly $12 per cwt. for red flesh seeded watermelons.

Joseph DeLisle, owner of Vincennes, Ind.-based DeLisle Produce Co., said a very wet season will delay his shipments. As of mid-June, he said he was still planting.

Whereas DeLisle normally starts shipping by July 4, this season he said he won’t begin until the 15th. He said he expects his crop to reach its peak around Aug. 1. Like most growers, he hasn’t had any problems with fruit blotch, but wilting problems have been exacerbated by the wet weather.

Merom, Ind.-based Monroe’s Melons, located about 30 miles north of Vincennes and also situated near the Illinois-Indiana border, may have escaped the harsh rains, said owner Mike Monroe.

While he saw about 3 inches fall in one week in early June and witnessed heavy rainfall early in the season, a three-week dry spell in the middle may have spared his crop.

Monroe said that while overall precipitation has been about normal, temperatures have been cooler than average. And it’s those cooler temperatures that may delay his crop. He said he hopes temperatures will rise, so demand can build up.

“It’s been cooler here and in northern areas, like Chicago. I hope we’ll see some nicer weather. When it’s warm, people are more inclined to go with melons,” said Monroe, who expects to start shipping in mid-July. “They still eat them when it’s cool, but the demand isn’t as great.”

Iowa grower Tim Bell, owner of Lone Tree-based Bell’s Red Barn Market, said the weather has been cooler, but not cool enough to damage the crop. He said the quality should be good.

Bell said he might be able to start shipping on time, starting as early as July 20 and reaching peak season at the end of August.

Bibbs Produce & Trucking, located in Hornersville, Mo., on the southern tip of Missouri’s bootheel near the Arkansas border, has experienced the same weather as nearby Semo Produce. Owner Mark Bibbs said that the late start in some areas may turn out to give them an advantage.

“A lot of guys who had to plant later this year have asked us to handle their fruit,” said Bibbs, who normally finishes shipping in mid-August. “Because of the delays, we should be steady through the end of August, and maybe even past Labor Day.”