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Melons may see larger volume, earlier start, longer window

Last year was an unusual one for West Side melons, and particularly for cantaloupe. The harvest got a later-than-normal start, and when a Listeria outbreak associated with cantaloupe from Colorado hit the news in the fall, demand dropped off, leaving some cantaloupe fields unharvested.

Melon growers on the famed West Side of the San Joaquin Valley are hopeful for a better situation this year in several respects.

First, movement 03-WSideMelons-Crop-retailA retail display of watermelons, cantaloupes and honeydews from California’s famed West Side growing district. (Photo by Rand Green) for cantaloupes out of Mexico and early districts in the United States, such as California’s Imperial Valley, while perhaps not as strong as marketers might like, seem to indicate that consumers are once again buying the melons.

In addition, the harvest for many growers was expected to start a week or so earlier than last year, giving additional marketing time on the front end. And of course there is the expectation that the marketing window will not be shortened on the late side by external circumstances, as it was last year.

As of early June, it was unclear just how many acres of cantaloupes would be planted on the West Side this year, as the planting for the latter part of the season was still underway.

However, several people in the industry told The Produce News that they expect planted acreage to be down a little from last year. However, harvested acreage may be up.

“Since we finished up cantaloupes the end of last season in California, we have seen a positive surge again in cantaloupe movement,” said Atomic Torosian, a partner in Crown Jewels Produce in Fresno, CA. He expected the harvest to start around July 7 or 8.

Turlock Fruit Co. in Turlock, CA, expected to begin harvesting in the Huron area toward the end of June, four to seven days earlier than last year, according to Steve Smith, an owner of the company.

Turlock Fruit will be down a little on cantaloupe acreage but will have about the same amount of honeydews and mixed melons as last year, he said.

Double D Farms in Coalinga, CA, which grows only organic products in its melon program, finished its season last year before the listeria outbreak occurred, so it did not experience the impact of diminished demand. This year, the company will have similar cantaloupe acreage but has added a honeydew program. The harvest will start in late June, according to Gurdeep Billan, director of sales.

Thanks to better weather, Westside Produce in Firebaugh, CA, expects to have better supplies in July this year than it did a year ago, according to Jim Malanca, a partner in the company.