Texas watermelon crop looks good and on schedule for Fourth of July

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UVALDE – Despite typical troubles for individual growers, the Texas watermelon crop appears to be performing on time and without many problems, said Dr. Larry Stein, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist, Uvalde.

Stein said the Texas watermelon crop was “looking good” and has avoided many of the disease problems that have plagued other crops this year.

“Watermelons have been one of the better crops we have around the Lower Rio Grande Valley,” said Stein. “Other crops have had to deal with black rot and other disease issues, but watermelons have done well as the weather turned drier.”

Melvin Rutherford, of Hawkins, surveyed his 14-acre irrigated watermelon patch and pointed out problems here and there.

Gophers chewed the roots of a plant in one row, killing it quickly. Another plant in another row showed tell-tale signs of mosaic virus. Watermelon shoots, twisted together by high winds earlier in the season, weren’t spreading out as they should on many rows. Blooms and small, thumb-sized melons lay half-covered in the sand after winds shook them off their shoots.

Crows and furry critters like coyotes and squirrels can also cause significant losses if not kept in check, but the most significant problem for Rutherford has been weather. Cool weather and cloudy, rainy days slowed melon growth in May, so it may be July 1 before he begins cutting melons for shade-tree peddlers who come as far away as Fort Worth and Louisiana to fill trailers with his Jubilee variety.

The ability to deliver vine-ripe watermelons to meet demands around Fourth of July festivities is critical, he said.

But there are also signs that the 2017 season may be taking a turn for the better. He has monitored the growth of one larger melon and it’s been packing on size and weight over the past six sunny days.

“You’re up against Mother Nature,” he said. “There are things you can do to minimize your losses, but in the end, it’s a gamble. Give me hot, sunny days and we’ll be alright.”

Stein said the main challenge for growers is to hit the window of opportunity that peaks with the Fourth of July holiday. Producers often start their fields too early or cool weather can delay growth and push a field’s ready date beyond the peak.

“The key is to have them ready before the Fourth of July,” he said. “When you can hit that market date you can do very well.”

Watermelons are a dish people enjoy in the heat of the summer, Stein said. Sales start as summer opens and then typically tail off by the end of August.

Texas is the top producer of watermelons in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agriculture Statistics Service, and represent the No. 1 vegetable crop in Texas, Stein said.

The statewide watermelon crop in 2016 was worth more than $75 million, according to AgriLife Extension annual reports. That is down 25 percent from more than $100 million in 2014.

Stein said the vegetable’s expanding root system and ability to adapt to dry conditions on dryland fields make much of the state good for watermelon production, though several areas, such as the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and North and East Texas, have higher concentrations of fields.

“Most of the state received good rains and no major issues this year,” he said. “If they can make the Fourth of July window, they should be fine.”

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