(Oct. 15) MISSION, Texas — The suspension of the federal marketing order overseeing a declining melon production area is indicative of the state of the Rio Grande Valley’s cantaloupe growing and shipping industry.

Members of the South Texas Melon Committee, which also oversees honeydew, Oct. 1 officially suspended the 25-year-old marketing order that was funded through a 9-cents a box assessment.

“There just isn’t much optimism that the South Texas cantaloupe market is or can be strong or healthy,” said John McClung, committee manager and president of the Texas Produce Association, Mission.

Though the marketing order technically remains in operation, the organization will not conduct its traditional assessment collection and compliance enforcement functions.

The 10-member committee voted Sept. 16 to suspend the order’s rules and regulations instead of ending or suspending the order entirely, McClung said.

The suspension allows the committee to remain in place and perform background activities such as issuing plant-ing intentions and acreage reports, he said.

“This will keep the marketing order alive for another year at least, but we do not anticipate putting in collective money for marketing or for promotions or research,” McClung said.

COMPETITION

A glut of cantaloupe imports from Central America and competition from California has hurt the Rio Grande Valley’s melon marketing, shippers say.

“Our window of opportunity is getting too small,” said Jeff Fawcett, sales manager of melon shipper Bagley Produce Co. Inc., Edinburg. “California has closed that window. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the industry here.”

Cantaloupe acreage declined to 4,000 acres last year from a high of 25,000 15 years ago, McClung said.

Acreage for the 2005 season, which starts May 1 and runs through June 20, is expected to continue to fall substantially, he said.

“A lot of guys are decreasing their acreage,” said Will Steele, vice president of Frontera Produce LLC, Edinburg.

“We used to have the first cantaloupes in the industry. The pizzazz isn’t there anymore.”

The committee, which consists of six growers, three handlers and a public member, approved a $79,000 budget for 2004-05. The funding will come out of the marketing order’s reserves, McClung said.

The budget was $315,000 for each of the past two years, McClung said.

The valley will continue to grow, ship and import honeydews, however, McClung said. The changes will not affect the valley’s watermelon.