Demand for high-quality Memorial Day favorites is expected to be high. Supplies could be another issue - at least for one favorite.
Watermelon supplies for Memorial Day, May 25, are expected to be tight because of unseasonably cold winter weather in Florida, which caused growers to re-plant.
Holiday volumes could be down as much as 30%, predicted Gordon Etheridge, president of Etheridge Produce LLC, Raleigh, N.C.
Typically, for instance, the company would begin shipping out of the Gainesville, Fla., area by May 12-15, in time for Memorial Day, Etheridge said. This year, it will be closer to the 24th or 25th - too late to take advantage of holiday pull.
The shortage could cause some retailers to pull holiday promotions, he said. Etheridge is encouraging some customers to promote watermelons the week after Memorial Day, when supplies from North Florida and Georgia will increase.
Volume from Florida and Texas would likely be down for Memorial Day, said Bob Morrissey, executive director of the Plant City, Fla.-based National Watermelon Association.
"It's been one of the weirdest winters we've ever had," he said. "Some growers have had to re-plant two or three times. Supplies are going to be tight, but they should be able to fill orders for Memorial Day."
At the end of April, superb quality out of the Immokalee region was driving high demand, and Etheridge said he expects melons shipping for Memorial Day also to have high demand.
On April 28, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $22-23 per cwt. for 24-inch bins of red-flesh seedless watermelons 45s from Florida, comparable to last year at the same time.
"We have the best quality here in Immokalee that we've had in several years," he said. "No hollow heart or disease. We can't keep up with demand now."
The reports Morrissey had heard indicated "really good" quality on Florida and Texas product shipping this spring.
Prospects for another holiday favorite, sweet corn, are considerably better, said Bryan Biederman, assistant sales manager for Pioneer Growers Co-op, Belle Glade, Fla.
"We have ample supplies, the quality looks excellent, the yields are excellent," he said. "It's as sweet as it's ever been, and we have all the trade needs."
Sweet corn growers in the Sunshine State dealt with many of the same weather issues as watermelon growers. But by the end of April, corn that had been affected by the weather had moved through the system, Biederman said.
There's always good demand for sweet corn at Memorial Day, he said. This year, the lack of product in the first half of spring will make that demand that much stronger.
"There should be excellent pull," he said. "The three freezes really limited volume. Now, the weather is warming up and people are really thinking about sweet corn."
On April 28, the USDA reported prices of $8.95-9.40 for wirebound crates of 4 -4 ½ dozen ears of yellow corn from Florida, compared to $8.20 last year at the same time.