West Side melon deal looks for rebound to 20 million cartons
by Brian Gaylord | June 10, 2010
Last year's West Side melon deal in California came in at 19.3 million 40-
pound cartons, a slight decline from 2008 totals.
Jerry Munson, manager of the Cantaloupe Advisory Board, said that the board
anticipates 20 million 40-pound cartons in 2010.
In 2009, West Side growers were short of product toward the end of the year.
Most crop is in by mid-September. The final total ratchets upwards of the
projection as the harvest continues to Oct. 1 or later.
"Toward the end of the season [in 2009,] we didn’t get late production," Mr.
Munson said. “The season didn’t last long, but they had been getting a good
The West Side deal covers Bakersfield , CA, 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 and 22 million cartons.
This year, “Growers planted on time, no one seemed to be far behind,” Mr.
Munson said. “There’s been some problem with cool weather. The crop will be
a little late.”
Mr. Munson said that he does not foresee a shortage of water to be a problem
for this year’s West Side crop.
“We [the Cantaloupe Advisory Board] always budget for 20 million cartons,”
Mr. Munson told The Produce News in late May, putting the board’s budget
for 2010 at nearly $260,000.
Five hundred cartons of melons per acre is a standard baseline.
The board holds its annual meeting in mid-April, at which time it sets its
budget for the year.
As of nearly a decade 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.
A sizable proportion of the board expenditures in 2009 were earmarked for
surveillance of cantaloupe theft. This year the board has earmarked $138,700
for surveillance, a reduction from last year’s earmark of $163,000.
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
Theft prevention is important around Bakersfield, where the season starts,
Mr. Munson said.
In 2009, the board raised its assessment from 1 cent per carton to 1.2 cents
per carton. That 1.2 cents rate is holding steady for 2010, Mr. Munson said.
Beginning in 2009, the board continues to fund ongoing research with Trevor
Suslow at the University of California-Davis with two studies: One study is to
try to demonstrate that cantaloupes can’t absorb harmful elements from
irrigation water and the other study is to try to find expedient ways to detect
pathogens in cantaloupe fields.
Last year, both the Cantaloupe Advisory Board and the Melon Research Board
received a report of Dr. Suslow’s findings. The Melon Research Board’s
concerns extend beyond cantaloupes to include honeydews and mixed
The early returns on Dr. Suslow’s research from last year are encouraging:
Under experimental conditions, transport of internalized bacteria — avirulent
E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella and surrogate bacteria — within the melon vine
was determined to be highly restricted.
The report further stated that in California “irrigation source water for melon
production is highly unlikely to have levels of pathogenic E. coli or Salmonella
present at levels that come close to even the lowest inoculation dose applied”
and that “root uptake and systemic movement to fruit seems an implausible
The report also concluded that it appears that systemic internalization of
bacteria from the soil “is not a high-risk concern.”
There have been no recent updates from Dr. Suslow’s ongoing research, Mr.
(For more on West side melons, see the June 14, 2010, issue of The Produce