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Slow start to San Joaquin Valley melon deal

by Tim Linden | July 07, 2011

July typically means the start of the melon deal in California's San Joaquin Valley, but that is not the case this year. The cold spring weather, which limited the production of grapes and tree fruit, has greatly affected the early Central Valley cantaloupe deal.

"Everyone starts planting in Huron, the southwestern section of the valley, in early March so that we will have melons as close to July 1 as we can," said Jim Malanca of Westside Produce in Firebaugh, CA. "On May 1, the crop looked like it was on schedule, but we had a very erratic May, and the timing has changed."

The longtime melon specialist said that cold, wet weather affected the plants in the ground as well as the planting schedule. Growers allow for uniform harvest and consistent supply throughout the season, but when a field slows down, it affects the planting schedule. Growers do not want to have a bunching effect on their harvests, which can mean having more melons come out of their fields than can be immediately handled.

Most growers had not begun harvesting by July 6, and those that had were seeing smaller fruit than normal. Mr. Malanca said that size-9 fruit will be at a premium throughout the month of July. "We are going to peak on 12s and 15s, and then next in line will be 18s with 9s in fourth place. As we get further into the deal in July, 9s will move up to third place, but I don't think they will get into second place."

As he was speaking July 6, the San Joaquin Valley was experiencing triple-digit temperatures and its first real heat wave of the summer. There was promise that the normal weather pattern was returning. If the warm weather persists, Mr. Malanca said that early August would bring a return to normal shipping volumes for cantaloupes as well as the other melons in the category, including honeydews and mixed melons.

The U.S. Federal State Market News Service's daily report had not even begun reporting melons from the San Joaquin Valley in its July 6 edition. The cantaloupe report, issued from California's Imperial Valley as well as central and western Arizona, stated that the supply of size-9 cantaloupes was very light, demand was good and the price was high. The f.o.b. price was quoted as $11-$13 for 9s, while the smaller-sized 15s were trading in a range of $8.50 to $11. Mr. Malanca said that while supplies of the large cantaloupes will be short, he did not expect the price to skyrocket. He explained that the stronger market will result in higher retail prices, which will temper demand.

A quick survey of several shippers with volume in California's desert area revealed that most sheds were already closed by July 6. Central Arizona will continue to have melons throughout the summer, but the bulk of summer cantaloupe shipments will originate in the San Joaquin Valley in mid- to late July.