IMMOKALEE, Fla. — Florida growers say their watermelon and cantaloupe plantings survived freezing temperatures that crushed other fruit and vegetables in January.

Florida watermelon plantings unaffected by cold weather

Doug Ohlemeier

Brian Arrigo, president of Southern Corporate Packers Inc., Immokalee, Fla., examines some young watermelon transplants in a field in Devil’s Garden southeast of Immokalee in early February.
Florida growers say their watermelon plantings survived freezing temperatures that crushed other fruit and vegetables in January.

The first U.S. growers to begin spring watermelon production, Florida growers were looking forward to starting their spring shipments.

Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., in mid-February said Immokalee-area plantings were transplanted after the freezing weather and were doing well.

Lytch said L&M initially planned to begin harvest a little earlier than its usual late-April start, but said the freezing weather delayed plantings and therefore should return harvesting to its normal schedule.

Southern Corporate Packers Inc. plans to begin watermelon shipments April 20, on time.

Brian Arrigo, president, said Immokalee-area production begins in the Devil’s Garden growing region north of the Big Cyprus Seminole Indian Reservation on the north side of the Everglades and runs through mid-May.

Production near Arcadia and Wauchula begins in early May and runs through the end of the month, while north Florida harvests near Trenton normally start in mid- to late May and go through mid- to late June before Cordele, Ga., summer harvesting typically starts in mid-June.

Strong market expected
Arrigo said south Florida experienced a strong market last season.

“We had an excellent crop last season in Immokalee,” Arrigo said. “We had some of the best yields ever, while in Arcadia, where all the rains hit, it was the exact opposite.”

Prices, he said, dipped for about a week but then strengthened. He said prices were in the 20-cents-per-pound range.

Lytch called Florida’s spring deal okay but said Georgia’s production suffered from low demand and high carryover which brought an oversupply that kept prices low.

North Florida should remain in full production shipping for Memorial Day, going as late as it possibly can and bringing strong promotable volume, Lytch said.

Memorial Day window
Lytch said it can be tricky some years for Florida growers to properly hit the Memorial Day window.

If the holiday comes earlier when north Florida normally hasn’t quite started yet and central Florida is peaking and winding down, that means that central Florida normally does most of Memorial Day shipping, he said.  

“This year, Memorial Day is the last day of the month which should fit right in for the north Florida guys — assuming the cold weather breaks and we are able to get in and plant — versus central and south Florida doing most of the Memorial Day shipping,” Lytch said.

L&M also grows watermelon in Georgia, North Carolina and Indiana.

Though Arrigo declined to state acreage, he said Southern Corporate Packers’ growers increased their plantings this season by 20%.

This is the first year Wm. P. Hearne Produce Co. LLC, Wimauma, plans to offer watermelon.

Hearne began planting in mid-February with its central Florida harvest set to begin in late May and run through mid-June.

“With this new cabbage cooling facility, we have the facility to handle it, plus we had some customers asking about it,” said Tony Piedimonte, co-owner. “We are more or less communicating with our customers that wanted some added supplies during that time. If we see it as a growing market, we can double crop our cabbage and cucumbers and utilize the land better.”

Hearne has 75 acres of seedless watermelon.

Central Florida cantaloupe
While south Florida growers usually start cantaloupe pickings in mid-April and usually pack through mid-May, central Florida production normally begins in early May and finishes by Memorial Day.

Gary Wishnatzki, president of Wishnatzki Farms, Plant City, called last season a poor year.

He said heavy rains caused several quality issues with the melons.

Wishnatzki plans to harvest from 300 cantaloupe acres, similar to last season.