“We discovered that some melon varieties still provided excellent yields with only 50 percent irrigation when applied after the young transplants are fully established, and that one specialty melon produced as well or better than a traditionally planted variety, Sharma said. “Potentially this could mean that a producer could make a lot more from planting the higher-value specialty melon instead.

“We’re investigating the use of synthetic cytokinins on cantaloupe and specialty melons to see if this will enable them to have an easier time when establishing,” he said, “And we’re also investigating plant growth regulators and the ethylene inhibitor 1-MCP to see if those can assist in fruit set development.”

Cytokinins are phytohormones that promote plant growth through stimulation of cell division in roots and shoots of plants, and also affect bud growth and leaf maturity.

Leskovar said this research would help producers be more successful when establishing melons in “more stressful” areas of the state, such as drier areas with less-than-optimal soil.

“Melons prefer a medium textured soil, but the South and South Central Texas area has more of a silty clay soil,” he said. “Melons developed or bred for better efficiency using less irrigation will have a lower risk of failure in areas that might once have been considered inhospitable for them.”

He has contacted growers in these areas about testing melon production on a more commercial basis and already has had some positive response to the idea.

Kevin Crosby, AgriLife Research specialist in vegetable breeding and genetics with the Texas A&M Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center in College Station, part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has been working in conjunction with Weslaco center scientists to produce more disease-resistant melon varieties.

“What you might see in terms of disease related to melon varieties are viral diseases spread by whiteflies, and fungal pathogens which cause vine-decline diseases, and mildew,” Crosby said.

He said he and others at the Weslaco center and Vegetable and Fruit Improvement center are assessing and breeding melon varieties that are more resistant to disease, have a longer shelf live and better transportability and higher phytochemical content.

Among those phytochemicals the melons are being assessed for are vitamin C and beta-carotene, which  is a carotenoid found in fruits and vegetables that provides much of the vitamin A recommended for the typical American diet. Beta-carotene is also used in a number of medical applications, including the treatment of exercise-induced asthma symptoms, heart disease and age-related macular degeneration.

“Typically, the only melons on the market in early May have been the ones from the Rio Grande Valley,” Crosby said. “But there’s a Dutch melon being grown in Central America and shipped to the U.S. that will challenge that early availability. So it’s important that Texas growers are aware of what’s going on so they can also compete in the global marketplace. We’re trying to help Texas producers grow melons that have not only the visual and taste characteristics consumers want, but also have higher yields and are durable enough to ship longer distances.”

Crosby said other traits they are trying to identify or develop in melons are a high fruit set and the ability for multiple plantings so producers can make the best use of their labor force as melons are typically harvested by hand.

“We’re hoping the results of the work we’re doing at the Uvalde and Weslaco centers and elsewhere will enable us to expand and implement melon production of both traditional and the newer specialty melon varieties through South and South Central Texas, as well as West Texas,” Leskovar said. “These efforts should allow us to help the producer eliminate some of the risks that come with other traditional crops being grown in those areas.”