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Acreage down at Westside Produce, but production may not be

Planted acreage is not the only factor that determines how many boxes of melons a grower may produce over the course of a season. Weather is also a significant factor. And at Westside Produce, a grower, packer and shipper of cantaloupes and honeydews, based in Firebaugh, CA, on the San Joaquin Valley’s famed West Side, that possibility may very well be demonstrated this year.

The company’s planted acreage for 2011 may be down as much as 10 percent from 2010, according to Jim Malanca, vice president of sales and marketing. But last year, weather issues affected production throughout the season.

The weather this spring has been unseasonably cool, which may delay the start of the harvest somewhat. But “last year we had erratic weather from the day we started all the way [through the season],” and as a result, “our yields were lower than normal last year.”

If the current year brings normal weather from June 1 forward, Mr. Malanca said, “we should have a chance to get more melons than last year on less acres. We are crossing our fingers that the weather treats us right.”

Westside Produce has melons in Arizona as well as in California, and when The Produce News talked with Mr. Malanca on May 25, he was in Arizona selling that deal. He observed that the “offshore” shippers “didn’t leave us with a very good market, and we are not sure what caused it. Is it because they are not moving at retail very well anymore? Or is it because of quality?” The answer to that question may become evident during the domestic melon season, he said, because “we think that our melons are the best. Time will tell what quality means to movement.”

In California, Westside Produce grows melons on the west side of California’s San Joaquin Valley from Huron to Los Banos, “and also in the desert,” Mr. Malanca said. He anticipates a start date on the West Side, for the early melons from Huron, probably sometime between July 5 and July 10. That is “subject to change depending on future weather,” he added. The harvest typically continues through mid-October. Even though acreage may be down this year, “if our yields are good, you won’t notice.”

The company’s melons are packed in the “Tri” label.

Westside Produce services retail and foodservice customers throughout North America. “Our goal every day is to service our customers properly by being consistent and as honest as possible,” Mr. Malanca said.