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Despite California water woes, West Side melon deal could hold steady for 2008

by Brian Gaylord | June 14, 2009
Last year's West Side melon deal in California came in at 20.5 million 40- pound cartons. Jerry Munson, manager of the California Cantaloupe Advisory Board, said that the board anticipates a comparable year in 2009.

The 2008 final tally of 20.5 million 40-pound cartons was considerably higher than the projected 20 million 40-pound cartons and slightly higher than 21.4 million cartons generated in the West Side deal in 2007. How long the season goes past mid-September determines the final total, Mr. Munson said.

"Most crop is in by then [September 15]," Mr. Munson said. The final total ratchets upwards of the projection as the harvest continues to Oct. 1 or later, he said.

The West Side deal covers Bakersfield and points north but not the Imperial Valley. The melon deal typically starts in Kern and Kings counties in early July. In addition to those counties, Fresno, Merced and Stanislaus counties make up the West Side melon deal. Fresno County accounts for most of the West Side deal's volume.

Typically, the West Side deal comes in between 20 million and 22 million cartons. In 2006, the deal generated 20.7 million cartons; in 2005, the West Side production total surged to 22.2 million cartons. Five hundred cartons of melons per acre is a standard baseline.

The California Cantaloupe Advisory Board holds its annual meeting in mid- April, at which time it sets its budget for the year. The sentiment expressed from West Side cantaloupe growers this year was that they could grow more cantaloupe than some other crops because cantaloupe don't require as much water.

"That was good news to me," Mr. Munson said. "A lot of crops will be down from a lack of water."

As of this year, the cantaloupe advisory board has raised its assessment to 1.2 cents per carton from 1 cent per carton , he said.

As of eight or nine years ago, the board no longer is involved with marketing, but instead conducts grade standards and surveillance. Its surveillance program involves trying to stop the theft of cantaloupes. The board has estimated expenditures of $308,000 for 2009, $163,000 of which is earmarked for surveillance of cantaloupe theft, Mr. Munson said.

Thieves steal the cantaloupes and sell them well below market prices to operations that will sell them to the public. These stolen cantaloupes lack the grade stamp and date stamp on the box that the county applies, making it risky business to sell the stolen wares. Grade stamps signify that a product is good for consumption and also serve a significant purpose in traceback capabilities.

"It [theft prevention] is important around Bakersfield where the season starts," Mr. Munson said. The advisory board hopes that in recognizing that Bakersfield signals the start of gunnysacking that the practice can be curtailed at the outset.

(For more on the West Side melon deal, see the June 15 issue of The Produce News.)