Jason Hanselman, industry affairs associate for the National Watermelon Promotion Board, provided The Produce News with a snapshot of watermelon movement as of mid-May. "After our tremendous start, we're seeing production slow somewhat compared to previous years," he said. "Traditionally, we see a large spike this time of year into the Memorial Day holiday. On the domestic side, everything is looking pretty normal other than [a] late start out of Texas, for which we're now getting data."
The following information provides a summary of the volume of watermelons moved by region/state since May 7 in the United States: Arizona/2.18 million pounds; California/8.89 million pounds; Florida/58.4 million pounds; Guatemala/720,000 pounds; Honduras/2.1 million pounds; Mexico/92.82 million pounds; and Texas/1.47 million pounds.
The combined shipping volume since May 7 was 166.6 million pounds, down approximately 4 percent from the same date in 2013. Hanselman said, "So really the biggest reason for this recent small shortage is due to Texas just starting to get up and running a couple weeks later than usual."
Despite the reduction in poundage, he went on to say that the industry is still seeing better-than-normal volume in primary production regions. "I think this goes to highlight how important of a region Texas is," he said. "The encouraging thing is that a late start is something that can be overcome, assuming production is relatively normal going forward and there is still time to hit the Memorial Day window. It's likely that this phase is merely a lull, and that soon the country will be awash in watermelon as most other regions are showing strong starts to the year."
Watermelon prices are showing a slight upward trend. "Usually this time of year sees only decline or leveling off. So it's an encouraging sign that prices are ticking up with production only down slightly," he noted. "This should give us a strong indication that demand is very solid right now, and as production continues to thrive this should be a good indication that prices should stay with it barring a ridiculous over-supply situation."
According to Hanselman, "The price increase is almost solely due to the lower-end prices dropping out for the most part with heavy concentration around $0.20 per pound. Prices seem to be in a good place, which bodes well going forward."
Stephanie Barlow, director of public relations and social media for the National Watermelon Promotion Board, said she met with growers in Gainesville, FL, in mid-April during a training session and asked them for their insights about the Florida watermelon season. "Harsh winter weather only minimally affected the Florida crop," she was told. "The growers had a positive outlook."
Shipments out of north Florida were set back by a few weeks, but Barlow said production is now in full swing. "[Central] Florida is shipping on time," she added. Shipments out of south Florida began in late April.
Florida growers will begin harvesting their second crop in late October, and production will continue into December.