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Turlock Fruit offers diverse melon options

With the fourth generation now in the business, Turlock Fruit Co. Inc., headquartered in Turlock, CA, has been shipping melons from California’s San Joaquin Valley since 1918. The company grows, packs and ships cantaloupe, honeydew melons and an assortment of mixed specialty melons.

The shipping season for cantaloupe and honeydews, which normally starts around the first of July in California’s Huron district, is a few days late this year, with the initial start expected to be July 4 or later, said Don Smith, president, in a May 26 interview with The Produce News. From Huron, production moves up to the Firebaugh, CA, area.

The mixed specialty melons are all grown in the Firebaugh area and were expected start this year around mid- to late July.

Varieties of specialty melons grown by Turlock Fruit Co. are orange-flesh honeydew, Crenshaw, Casaba, Santa Clause or Piel de Sapo, Hami, Sharlyn, Galia, Juan Canary, and heirloom Tuscan cantaloupe.

“The orange flesh honeydew is picking up in popularity, and we are getting better sizing on it,” Mr. Smith said. “We are real proud of our orange flesh business. It is getting bigger, and we think it is a better product.” Each year, the orange flesh melons keep improving due to improved seed varieties and also improved cultural practices, he said.

In Galia melons, also, the company is growing new varieties.

“The melon business is in a constant state of change because of newer and improved varieties,” Mr. Smith said. The improvements that are made result in better flavor, size and shippability.

Turlock Fruit’s melon acreage for the 2011 harvest is “almost a mirror of last year,” he said. However, “we’ve had a considerable increase” on the Hami melon, which has seen growth in demand.

The honeydew melons are shipped under the “King of the West” and “Sycamore” labels. The cantaloupes and mixed melons are shipped in the “Peacock” label.

“Some of the honeydews and mixed melons and all of the cantaloupes are shipped out of Firebaugh,” Mr. Smith said. “The balance of the honeydews and mixed melons are shipped out of the cold-storage plant in Turlock.” None of the products is packed in Turlock, he added. “It is just used as cold storage.”

Mr. Smith, Greg Cooper and Dan Kerrigan handle sales from Turlock.

Mr. Smith is the son of the company’s founder, J. H. (Cantaloupe) Smith. “I succeeded him,” he said. “Now my son Steve has taken over a large portion of the management,” although “believe me, I am still here.”

Steve Smith’s son Alec, the fourth generation to be involved in the business, joined the company in 2006 “after earning his bachelors in economics at Yale University. He is involved in the harvesting and packing of cantaloupe, honeydew and mixed-variety melons. He also manages the food-safety and worker-safety programs,” according to the company web site.

So far, the weather has been similar to last year as well, with “terribly cool weather in May,” which slows down the maturity of the melons.

“We are anxious to get going here,” he said. “But it is too early to determine what kind of production we are looking at,” with regard ether to melon size or total volume.

Turlock Fruit also handles melons from Mexico and California’s Imperial Valley. The Mexican melon program consists of honeydews from Hermosillo, Sonora, packed in the “4 Boys” label. “We are handling some production out of Hermosillo right now,” Mr. Smith said. Some comes through Nogales, AZ, and some through Yuma, AZ. Also, “we do handle a cantaloupe deal out of the Imperial Valley.” Those were in production in late May as well and are marketed under the “Oak Flat” label.

“We wrap up the honeydew business in the fall with production out of the Yuba City [CA] district,” Mr. Smith said. “That will all be shipped out of Turlock.”