Serious threats to water supplies may make availability of California melons tight at times this season, but grower-shippers say the melons will be out there, and they should exhibit good quality.
This will be about the 15th season for the melon program at Westside Produce in Firebaugh, Calif., and Jim Malanca, sales manager and co-owner, said, “It’s going to be business as usual,” despite any water shortages.
Continuing drought conditions, coupled with environmental considerations such as concerns for an endangered tiny fish called the delta smelt, have slashed water allocations and forced some growers to move acreage around or seek alternative water sources.
The industry probably is relying more on well water than higher-quality snow runoff from the California aqueduct, and that can reduce yields, Malanca said.
Westside Produce has about 3,000 acres of cantaloupes, and Malanca expects to see the same yields as last year. The company also grows up to 400 acres of honeydew melons to provide mixer loads for customers.
By mid-May, Turlock Fruit Co. Inc., Turlock, Calif., should start shipping cantaloupes, honeydews and mixed melons from California’s Imperial Valley, where growing conditions have been very good, said Steve Smith, co-owner.
The company should start shipping from its own growing deal in western Fresno County in the San Joaquin Valley by late June or early July. Those melons were planted in April, on schedule, but Smith said it was too early predict what yields or quality would be like.
Couture Farms in Kettleman City, Calif., will be back in the melon deal this season, albeit with less acreage, due largely to decreased water supplies, said Steve Couture, partner.
Growers’ costs also are rising, making it difficult to earn a profit.
“It’s getting harder and harder (to grow melons),” he said. “It takes some of the fun out of the produce business.”
He estimated the company would produce about 300,000 cartons of melons this year, about 25% fewer than last season. The firm has reduced honeydew plantings to 60 acres, down from 100 acres last year, and reduced cantaloupe planting to 25 acres, down from 60 last year.
Northern growing areas, such as Mendota and Firebaugh, were not reporting water shortages, he said, and should have some good plantings.
“I don’t see a real shortage of melons,” he said, despite the cutbacks at his own ranch.
Cool weather in March and early April in western Fresno and western Kings counties resulted in some planting delays for Couture Farms, and the early plantings, which started March 9, were not yet showing vigorous growth, Couture said in early April.
Couture expects to start picking in early July, a week or so later than usual, and finish by mid-August.
In early April, Westside Produce only had one field planted for California’s Westside melons deal, but the company’s Yuma, Ariz., deal was seeing its first bloom.
“Everything seems to be moving along at a pretty good pace,” Malanca said.
Forecasters predicted normal spring growing conditions in California, he said, and he expected the company’s first Westside acreage to come on in early July.