“This is a good year for melons,” says Jim Malance of Starr Produce in Rio Grande City. “And it's all got to do with supply and demand.” Starr, with 600 acres of honeydew and 400 acres of cantaloupe, is one of the biggest producers in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas.

Last year Mexican producers gave U.S. farmers big competition by flooding the market with cheap melons. “But nobody made money.” So this season both the United States and Mexico planted fewer acres. It follows that the demand would be up this year and farmers would see better returns.

“It's also the best weather for the crop we've had in 15 to 16 years,” says Malance. “Perfect weather kept diseases and insects at a minimum.” Quality and yield are also excellent.

Last year the warm winter made for an early crop — nearly a month earlier than this year — so producers got the jump on California melons; but the competition with Mexico and the Caribbean countries kept the price low. Farmers lost money on the $4 to $6 per carton that melons were bringing in the year 2000.

Earlier this season — before California melons came on the market — cantaloupe was bringing $10 to $12 per carton and honeydew $6 to $8, a significant improvement over last year, offering farmers a chance to make money on their crop. But by the third week in May, California melons, which were also late, came in, competing with Valley melons in the market.

The price went down to $8 to $10 for honeydew and $7 to $11 for cantaloupe.

If the price holds throughout harvest, farmers should still make money.