This year's watermelon harvest hurting

DUNKLIN COUNTY, MO (KAIT) - This year's Spring weather has put all kinds of farmers behind on growing crops. By now, the Dunklin County, Missouri watermelon harvest should be in full swing, but it's not.

Agronomy Specialist for the Missouri Extension Service Doctor Michael Milam says the crop is at least 2 to 3 weeks behind. According to Milam, about 2,500 acres of watermelons are in Dunklin County this year and about 300 in cantaloupes.

Farmer Ted Frey is a first year producer in the county, and his crop is looking good but due to the spring rains and flooding he lost about 20 acres that he chose not to replant. Ideally, the first harvest should be before July 4. In spite of the weather, Frey says it should still be a profitable year.

Frey said, "We're very happy with what we have. We had a little bit drowned out, just a handful of acres but we replanted and we're back going strong."

Frey raises seedless watermelons on plastic with drip irrigation running through the sand. His acreage, located just outside Kennett totals about 85 acres in two fields. His family has been raising melons for about 15 years in several states, including Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Arkansas, Indiana and Illinois.

The melons in the field that I visited ranged in size from my thumb to fully mature 16 pound stripers ready to be harvested. What's his schedule we asked?

"I cut a watermelon yesterday that was pretty red," Frey said.  "And when you find the first watermelon that's ripe you start harvesting a week after that."

Watermelon is really a summer fruit. Growers look toward 2 specific times to harvest. Dr.  Milam explains.

Milam said, "The farmers would like to get their first crop of melons off before the Fourth of July holidays because they can meet the Fourth of July Market. The ideal is to mainly to get your melons to come off at a time when all the other states don't have large amounts of melons."

And that's where Bob Jones comes into the picture. Jones travels with the harvest buying and selling from distributing points like his warehouse outside of Senath. When I visited with Jones in 2010 his warehouse and packing shed was full of melons and people. Today the building was empty except for a tractor and some forklifts that had just been delivered.

"Normally we start in June sometime," Jones said.  "We would be about a third of the way through the crop by now."

Like Frey, Jones says weather factors such as cool temperatures, too much rain and even wind has hampered growth. As far as selling goes, they have missed the first market. "We didn't have any melons for the 4th of July so that's rough."

Dr. Milam says that even though the weather slowed them down, farmers in his area have persisted in growing melons as a cash crop. Frey agrees.

"There's a demand for it," Frey said.  "There's a demand for cantaloupes and watermelons and we try and meet that demand."

Jones says that he thinks it will all work out for the Labor Day market rush thanks to Mother Nature.

"Since the weather has been so unfair to everybody we're all in the same shape," said Jones.  "Georgia's harvest was early so there has been a gap between Georgia and Missouri this year. So the market has gotten stronger for the growers which is very good."

Jones says he is still concerned about the quantity of available melons with the late growing season but his pickers and crews are coming in this week so hopefully melons will begin to roll out in truckloads very soon.

Copyright 2011 KAIT. All rights reserved.