Retailers and wholesalers will be dealing with a short watermelon gap with production down in the West and in Mexico, Florida catching up and Georgia delayed by rain.
After a rough start to the season, Florida watermelon production is catching up with typical years but an early start to the season due to a warm winter left a Memorial Day gap that will persist a while longer as Georgia production ramps up.
“South Florida was a bad deal, production was way down there,” said Greg Leger of Leger and Sons in Cordele, GA, which grows, sources and ships watermelon from all over the Eastern U.S. and Mexico. “In Central Florida, Arcadia north, they had mostly good fields, good volume, good movement. The crop was about two weeks early, so then we kind of gapped right at Memorial Day and starting in Georgia we got a little gap in the production. There’s still watermelon available and shipping out. But movement in the Northeast and Midwest slowed because it’s rained every weekend, so it kind of balanced itself out and kept the market nice and strong.”
National Watermelon Promotion Board Executive Director and CEO Mark Arney said Western U.S. volume is down in the past week by 25% versus the previous five year average for the same reporting period. Mexico is down 27% versus the previous five-year, seven-day average.
Not Enough Domestic Supply to Fill The Void
“There’s just not enough domestic supply available to fill the void,” Arney said. “Harvesting in Florida is moving from central to northern part of the state. What we saw quality wise in the fields last week near the Lakeland, FL area was excellent. Some fields had already been picked. We sampled the watermelons and they were excellent quality with brix near 12. Florida [is] catching up with shorter volume going into Memorial Day and is now up 2% in volume versus the previous five-year, seven-day average for the past week.”
Arney said the weather has been sporadic in Texas, “wet in some areas but too dry in others” with central Texas about to start harvest. The state has apparently overcome some earlier weather problems — this past week’s volume is up 28% versus the previous five-year, seven-day average.
But that still leaves Georgia to shoulder the load for the lion’s share of the nation’s watermelon supply into the 4th of July holiday – assuming it stops raining. Cooler weather and lots of rain have slowed Georgia’s deal but the situation is quickly correcting itself.
“In Georgia, everything looks good,” Arney said. “They could use some sunshine and dryer weather. If the rain can stay away we should be pulling more volume in the weeks to come from one of the biggest watermelon producing states.”
Leger says, “Texas is kind of off, Missouri is kind of off, Indiana’s late, Delaware’s late, so I don’t see this thing really getting in the dump as far as market because even though our acres are up a little in Georgia we’ve got markets to cover.”
Chamber of Commerce Weather, Not Watermelon Weather
After “several days of rainfall” Leger told SPW June 8 that “we’ll start next week but it’ll be June 15-20 before we get into volume. From then on there should be ample supplies and volume that will come off right on time for the 4th of July.”
The delay in the start of the Georgia season will give Leger an even more exclusive window after Independence Day. With some later acreage coming on after the holiday peak, Leger hopes for a “sweet deal” between July 10-22 before “some of the other guys get started.”
Bottom line: “The rain and lower temperatures slowed us back a little bit but we’ll have volume by the 15th or 20th weather permitting,” Leger said. “We ship more out of Georgia than we do anywhere. It just stopped raining yesterday; it’s rained every day and it just needs to get on out of here and if we get some sunshine everything’s going to be fine. If we get a tropical depression move in over us, all bets are off, you can’t foresee that. What we need is sunshine – this morning it was 61 degrees in Cordele, GA, it was absolutely beautiful here. That’s Chamber of Commerce weather but not watermelon weather.
“But it’s supposed to be 90 degrees over the weekend and that should dry everything out and hopefully we can get this crop off and keep moving.”