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The National Watermelon Association's 95th annual convention returns to historic Charleston, SC, for the first time in 35 years. The convention will take place Feb. 18-22 at the Francis Marion Hotel in downtown Charleston, SC, one of the more historic cities in the entire country and the site of Fort Sumter, where the Civil War started.

"It is absolutely gorgeous and historic city," Bob Morrissey, the association's executive director, told The Produce News.

Mr. Morrissey said that "for anyone in the produce industry, especially suppliers, it is the most cost-effective convention they can go to in the entire year. They can talk to people that are in the watermelon industry, whether it is farming or packing, but our farmers also grow over 30 other varieties of fruits and vegetables on their farms. They can do a great deal more business than watermelons with our farmers, and we haven't even scratched the surface when it comes to chemical and fertilizer companies, farm equipment, and irrigation suppliers yet."

He noted that for the past several years, the NWA convention had been competing with the Southeast Produce Council's conference, which he said has been moved to early March for at least the next two years.

"We are now the only produce convention in the month of February that we know of," he said. "Attendees will be able to survey what the NWA is all about and find out who we are and what we do because we do so many things for the industry."

Mr. Morrissey said that the organization's annual golf tournament will kick off the event Feb. 18 at the Patriots Point Golf Links, a Scottish-style links course. For non-golfers, a bus tour of Middleton Place, an 18th-century Southern plantation, is available.

The association's committee meetings and educational workshops will take place Feb. 19 and will include a food safety and traceability workshop, where the second edition of the commodity-specific food-safety program for the watermelon industry will be unveiled.

Feb. 20 will feature the renowned seed-spitting contest and annual watermelon auction as well as the National Watermelon Queen Pageant, which will begin during the opening general session that morning. Tom Lovelace, chairman of the United Fresh Produce Association, will address attendees at the opening general session.

On Feb. 21, Mr. Morrissey will give his annual State of the NWA Address at the general session and breakfast, and a new National Watermelon Queen will be crowned at the annual awards reception and banquet that night.

At the closing breakfast Feb. 22, the association will welcome its new president, John Lapide, secretary-treasurer of Melon One; its new first vice president, Brent Harrison, president of Al Harrison Distributors Co.; and its new second vice president, who will be nominated and voted in at the awards banquet on Saturday night. Nowell Borders, the association's outgoing president and president of Hargill, TX-based Borders Melon Co. Inc., will become chairman of the NWA, replacing Bradley O'Neal, president of Coosaw Farms.