Watermelon aficionados can rest easy. Despite heavy rains in South Texas, the juicy melons should be available at reasonable prices for the rest of the summer, said a Texas Cooperative Extension expert.
“A year or two ago, watermelons got to $6-$7 each, and I’m too chinchy to pay that kind of money, but I will pay $4 for a good one,” said Joe Pena, Extension economist in Uvalde. “This year, thanks to the rain, there has been plenty of good quality seedless melons in my price range.
“Watermelons and cantaloupes are two of the few vegetables planted in nearly every Texas county whether it be in commercial amounts or in gardens,” Pena said. “We enjoy an earlier season than other areas, but we’re not the center of U.S. watermelon production.”
Pena said the Texas Winter Garden region was hit hard with either too much rain during key pollination periods or with fields too wet to harvest. But the widespread rain allowed other parts of the state to produce more melons than normal.
Americans eat about 15 pounds of watermelon a year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the overall U.S. crop likely will meet that demand.
Macky McWhirter, a melon grower near Plains, said a good crop in Delaware, Indiana, Florida and Georgia have filled the market to this point, but West Texas growers are counting on a good market going into Labor Day and the rest of September.
“Our quality is good here,” McWhirter said. “We don’t have a strong price yet, but we are the last ones to have watermelons, so we’re looking for a good September market.”
So while South Texas producers did lose watermelons, overall the rain increased production across the entire state, and therefore there is still a healthy supply, Pena said. Mexico also supplied a lot of the earlier watermelons.
“However, you have to remember that for the producers who lost their crops due to rain, it’s devastating, and you’ve got to be sympathetic to those farmers,” he said.
The Texas Watermelon Association Inc. Web site shows that producers in the Lone Star state grow approximately 40,000 acres of watermelons each year, producing approximately 640 million pounds.
“The rains (in South Texas) kept the bees from being able to pollinate the watermelon, cantaloupe and cucumber plants the way they normally would, and also kept the pollen from reaching or remaining at its target,” Pena said. “In many instances, produce was left to rot in the field.”
South Texas melon and cucumber yields were 20 percent to 30 percent lower than average due to the rains, he said.
“But some other areas of Texas actually produced more melons from dryland production than other areas did from irrigated acres,” Pena said. “So there has been a lot of supply across Texas.”