In 2011, cold weather delayed the Florida watermelon crop by a couple of weeks. This year, a warm winter and spring brought production on two weeks early. After 15 years in Florida, Rick Sullivan, owner of Wm. Manis Co. in Plant City, is no longer surprised at what Mother Nature brings to the table.
“I never experienced a winter season quite like this,” Mr. Sullivan said. “There’s a lot of stuff, it comes on but it has to move quickly because of the heat. We planted our Florida watermelons to start right around May 5 and they started the last week of April. It’s not a terrible thing to have a few watermelons in early, but we wouldn’t have wanted it any earlier.”
The Manis Co. has been growing, shipping, selling and marketing produce for a half-century, and it grows watermelons in four states, with several-hundred acres in Arcadia, FL, north Florida,Georgia, Missouri and Indiana.
The early-season Florida watermelons enjoyed a high market, commanding 28-30 cents per pound at one point before settling to 16-18 cents in mid-May. Mr. Sullivan hopes that market will hold as the company enters its Georgia watermelon season. He also hopes supplies of Georgia watermelon hold out through the Fourth of July holiday.
“The timing’s going to be off on everything this whole summer, it looks like, if this continues, and I don’t see why it wouldn’t continue,” Mr. Sullivan said. “It’s been crazy. “Mother Nature hasn’t done anything in her normal pattern this year. I don’t really have anything interesting to add to that other than that we just kind of have to follow it and go day by day. I can’t predict the future — if I knew all that I’d play the lotto.”
Last season, watermelons came on so late that some Florida growers missed the Memorial Day window and a torrent of fruit hit the market just after the holiday, as the Florida and Georgia crops came off pretty much at the same time. And while most of the Florida watermelons will be wrapping up as the Georgia deal comes on this year, there still could be some minor overlap. And the early start in Georgia will mean a race to Independence Day.
“It could mean some gaps in the producing areas later this summer, but I hope not. Georgia has had higher heat than normal this [spring] as well. That could leave a bigger gap between Georgia and, say, Missouri than we normally experience. That’s my concern,” Mr. Sullivan said.
Manis is a leading grower-marketer of watermelons, Athena cantaloupes, citrus, strawberries, import specialties, Southern vegetables, and fruits of the Pacific Northwest, and it also imports melons, asparagus and other offshore items, enabling customized mixed loads as customers need. The company ships fresh fruits and vegetables throughout the United States, Canada and the Caribbean to supermarket chains, foodservice suppliers, terminal market wholesalers and offshore receivers.