Georgia watermelon grower-shippers look for a more normal season that’s set to start on time in early June.

That word follows reports of less planted acreage.

Growers also say retailers can expect a strong cantaloupe crop.

Hoping to do better than last year’s season, which saw low prices after an oversupply and a bunching up of product caused by freeze delays in south Florida had the north Florida and south Georgia deals overlapping, Georgia growers look to begin harvesting June 5-7.

Volume is expected to begin in mid-June.

Adam Lytch, operations manager for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., said he expects to begin harvesting red seedless, red seeded and yellow seedless watermelon June 5.

Lytch said growers hope the deal will be stronger this season.

“There is a lot less acreage in Georgia this year,” he said in mid-April.

“Several growers have gotten out completely. The Georgia deal should be a fairly decent deal. There will be fewer acres because it has been a while since anyone has made any money in this deal.”

Lytch said growers hope this season won’t be a repeat of last year, which he called disastrous. In addition to the over production, Lytch said fruit size was too large.

Greg Leger, president and partner in Leger & Son Inc., Cordele, Ga., said he finished most of his plantings in early April and that the transplants were preparing to bloom.

He said Florida production looked strong in April and said growers need favorable June weather to encourage shoppers to put watermelons in their grocery shopping carts.

“Last season was OK but was cheap,” Leger said in mid-April.

“We had too much production and north Florida came on top of us. There was just a whole lot of fruit at a cheap price. Some people didn’t even harvest. It got that bad. I don’t think we’ll see that this year.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in late April hadn’t started reporting Florida watermelon prices, saying volume should increase for price reporting in late April.

The USDA reported these prices in late April for Guatemala watermelon imported into Miami: cartons of red-flesh seedless-type 3s, 4s and 5s, $17-18, 6s, $16-18.

Last season in early to mid-May, the USDA reported these prices from Florida: 24-inch bins per cwt. red-flesh seeded 35s $20-22, red-flesh seedless 45s $26, 60s $24.

In mid-June last season, the USDA reported these season opening prices for Georgia production: 24-inch bins per cwt. red-flesh seeded 35s $10; red-flesh seedless 36s, $10; 45s, $10-11; 60s, $11-12.

Georgia watermelon production typically runs through July 4-10.

Georgia’s cantaloupe season normally starts in late May, with peak production hitting around June 10. Harvesting typically runs to the Fourth of July.

Lytch characterized crop conditions of athena melons as strong.

“The crop looks real good right now,” he said in mid-April. “We have had good growing weather.”

Because of high fuel costs, Lytch said the season should be interesting as Georgia growers will be competing directly against California melons.

Lytch said buyers should consider how freight rates could be as high as they have ever been this summer and could add as much as more than 50 cents per box for shipment to East Coast retailers.

He said L&M plans to make a bigger push for the Eastern melon market. He said the athena cantaloupe has gained popularity because of its regional production.

The USDA in late April hadn’t started reporting Florida prices.
In mid-June last year, the USDA reported 24-inch bins of athena cantaloupe from Georgia selling for $120-135 for 110s and 120s, $120 for 125s and $100 for 170s.