Developing new varieties of melons has taken a back seat to fighting crop-damaging insects and diseases for the California Melon Research Board, Dinuba, said Nathan Sano, assistant manager.

“The industry would like to do more fall melons in the California desert but the white fly problem is too great,” he said.

The tiny insect is why the bulk of the state’s melon production is in the San Joaquin Valley, he said.

“The white flies don’t overwinter well in the valley,” Sano said. “We get occasional infestations but they are small.”

In the desert, white flies can carry a debilitating virus that originated in Mexico but is not yet in the San Joaquin Valley and does not greatly affect the desert’s spring melon crops.

“The sheer number of white flies is not built up enough to cause problems in the spring,” said John LeBoeuf, the board’s research coordinator.

The San Joaquin Valley is not without insect problems, however.

“The pest that causes the most damage here in the valley is the cotton or melon aphid, which carries a variety of viruses,” LeBoeuf said. “Leaf miners can be a big problem late in the season along with cabbage loopers.”

Research funded by the board has proved to be beneficial.

“The industry has really made a significant reduction in the use of the harder organophosphates and other strong chemicals,” LeBoeuf said. “The result is reduced risk on the environment and improved worker safety.”

While breeding new melon varieties is on the back burner, research aimed at getting better tasting cantaloupes to market continues, Sano said.

“We’ve been doing some flavor testing and smell testing. We’re trying to determine the very best time to harvest,” he said.