California’s water woes have been well-documented and the state’s melon acreage is diminishing, but westside melon grower-shippers said they anticipate normal volume for 2009.

“The deal could be even bigger than last year if we get enough water,” said Atomic Torosian, managing partner at Crown Jewels Marketing & Distribution LLC, Fresno, Calif.

A normal crop of cantaloupes in the San Joaquin Valley is about 20 million cartons, said Jerry Munson, manager of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, Dinuba.

California growers anticipate normal melon volumeA new alliance between Crown Jewels and Firebaugh, Calif.-based Perez Packing Inc. has the Fresno firm selling the cantaloupe and honeydew programs for Perez.

The companies have resurrected the venerable King Crow label, which was a fixture in the melon industry for decades.

Picking should begin the first week in July, Torosian said, and will continue into October, weather permitting.

The opening act for the valley’s 2009 melon crop will likely be seedless watermelons from Kirschenman Enterprises Inc., Edison, Calif.

Harvesting of the company’s green and yellow seedless melons should begin about June 10, said Wayde Kirschenman, vice president.

Volume should be about the same as 2008, he said.

However, the company has increased its production of the yellow seedless variety.

The harvest at Westside Produce Co., Firebaugh, could begin as early at July 1, said Jim Malanca, co-owner and sales manager.

“We planted our first cantaloupes the last Monday in March, but we usually go by the bloom date,” he said, “And the bloom  date says we’ll be able to start picking July 1.”

That date is not a signal for all retailers to plan major promotions for the Fourth of July holiday.

“It takes four or five days to get the fruit to the East Coast,” Malanca said. “There would not be enough back east for the holiday weekend.”

Depending on the weather, picking could start before July at Stamoules Produce Co., Mendota, Calif., said Demetri Karabinis, salesman.

The company’s cantaloupes and honeydews may start going into the S&S branded cartons as early as late June, Karabinis said, but it could be as late as early July.

Water will not be a problem at Stamoules, and volume should be about the same as the 2008 deal, he said.

The all-cantaloupe program at V.H. Azhderian & Co. Inc., Los Banos, Calif., could hit 900,000 cartons this season, said Josie Rodriguez, office manager.

Los Banos is in the heart of an uncertain water region, but Azhderian & Co. will have enough water for the 2009 crop, she said.

The company has carryover water not used in 2008, and the water district’s allotment increased 5% in mid-May.

The harvest should begin in mid-July, Rodriquez said.

V.H. Azhderian & Co. is among the melon industry’s senior citizens and has its headquarters in what was once the valley’s cantaloupe hub.

“It was founded in 1916 and is the last cantaloupe packing shed left in Los Banos,” Rodriguez said.

Picking of cantaloupes and honeydews at Couture Farms, Kettleman City, Calif., could start as late at July 6, said partner Steve Couture.

Those varieties represent a small percentage of the company’s melon production, however.

Couture Farms concentrates on nine varieties of specialty melons.

The start of the specialty melon harvest is simultaneous with the cantaloupes and honeydews, Couture said, but the picking will wrap up about the end of August.

In mid-May, valley temperatures climbed above 100 degrees for the first time this year.

The area’s warm-to-hot weather delivers high sugar content to the melons.

“With California melons, the retailers don’t run the risk of purchasing an early season melon that doesn’t meet consumers’ expectations,” Couture said.

Turlock Fruit Co. Inc., Turlock, Calif., markets more than a half dozen varieties of specialty melons in addition to cantaloupes and honeydews, said Don Smith, co-owner.

“I’m optimistic. I think the crops look pretty decent right now,” he said in late May.

Turlock Fruit is targeting the first week in July to start the 2009 harvest.
Weather permitting, picking should continue into early October, Smith said.

At the southern throes of the San Joaquin Valley, Dan Andrews, Dan Andrews Farms, Bakersfield, Calif., continues the family name in the state’s melon industry — and continues his alliance with Colorful Harvest LLC, Salinas, Calif.

The 2009 season will mark the third year of the alliance in which Andrews markets 80% of his volume with 20% of the melons going to Colorful Harvest.

High winds during the Arizona and California desert melon bloom knocked off some of the flowers, Malanca said.

Then, high temperatures in May accelerated the ripening of the surviving melons.
The result was a mini-glut on the market and lower f.o.b.s.

By the Memorial Day weekend, the bloom damage translated to volume that was down as much as 35%, and prices strengthened, Malanca said.

Those higher prices may not continue into the valley deal.

If tradition holds, however, a July 1 harvest start does signal a more balanced season.

“When we have melons by the Fourth of July, we have somewhat of a normal marketing year,” Malanca said.