Texas melon growers may soon have more than just cantaloupe and honeydews to grow in their fields thanks to ongoing research and trials being conducted across the state, and these new melon varieties could make drought conditions more tolerable for producers struggling with water issues.
“Melon production in Texas is largely limited to watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew varieties, but water issues and current drought concerns are leading us to look at other types of melons that would do well in our environment, and some of the specialty melons we are working with address these issues and provide the added benefit of appealing to a consumer market that is moving beyond traditional melon varieties,” says Dr. Daniel Laskovar, professor of horticulture science and interim director for the Texas AgriLife Extension and Research Center in Uvalde.
Not so long ago, all across the Trans-Pecos region and as far south as Uvalde and the Rio Grande Valley, Laskovar says melon fields spotted the landscape and provided a profitable crop for Texas growers. But water issues and a stagnant market price for traditional melons have forced many growers to trim production levels and acreage or, in many instances, to completely eliminate melons as a profitable crop.
But Dr. Kevin Crosby, associate professor at Texas AgriLife Extension in College Station and a plant breeder currently working with Laskovar on developing and testing specialty melons, says consumer interest in new melon varieties in California, Arizona and Florida is an encouraging indication that specialty varieties may provide welcome relief to distressed melon operations in Texas.
“Many specialty melons like Canary, Crenshaw and Galia are doing well as consumers adjust to new melon varieties, and some of the specialty melons we are working with provide a longer shelf life, which has sparked the interest of large retailers.” Crosby says.
Laskovar and Crosby are working with such specialty melons as Tuscan varieties from Italy, especially the Da Vinci melon, and ribbed Spanish melons.
“The real advantage to these melon varieties is that they are more drought resistant because they root deeper into soils. Where a cantaloupe reaches a couple of inches into the soil for moisture, some of these new varieties will burrow much deeper. This means less irrigation,” Crosby adds.
And he says it’s not only the better drought resistant properties of these specialty melons but also their adaptability to multiple soil types that can make them more attractive to growers across the state.
“The number of melon producers in the Trans-Pecos region has greatly diminished over the years and these new varieties offer a good alternative because of their resistance to drought, and they also show promise of working well with the sandy loam soils of the Central Hill Country and the sand and clay mix of Valley soils. Overall they will provide a heartier product for growers,” Crosby says.
But he warns growers with smaller operations will be the most likely to convert to new varieties, saying larger producers will want to measure how well these crops are accepted by consumers before making big changes.
“Specialty melons are proving to be very attractive to West Coast consumers and we’re seeing a viable market for these types of products in other areas as well. These new melons can be larger and provide a sweet taste that is desirable,” Laskovar says.
Researchers say nearly 15 percent of Texas melon production is dedicated to honeydew melons, and that broad acceptance of this type of melon in recent years is encouraging as it indicates consumer willingness to try new varieties. And that, they say, will determine how well specialty melons as a primary crop will be appeal to Texas growers in the years ahead.