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Gibson Produce expects market will bounce back after Memorial Day

The watermelon market has been soft this spring with cool, rainy weather in the Northeast and bumper crops coming from Mexico, Texas and Florida. But Bob Gibson of Gibson Produce & Watermelon Sales LLC in Vero Beach, FL, believes things will turn around after Memorial Day as the early oversupply wanes.

“The market still seems to be a little sluggish due to weather in the receiving areas in the Northeast, and it is affecting our watermelon sales on the other end,” Mr. Gibson told The Produce News in mid-May. “We had three major areas all coming on at the same time — Nogales, Texas and Florida — and it has impacted us. Supply is more than demand.”

Gibson grows in three states: The company has hundreds of acres of watermelons planted in north Florida near Chiefland, as well as in Clewiston and Malone in the state’s Panhandle. There are also several hundred acres in Georgia where harvesting will begin after Memorial Day and several hundred more in Delaware that will carry the company through the rest of the season.

“I’m up in north Florida now. I have 350 acres up here, and we’re just starting to get going,” Mr. Gibson said. “I feel after Memorial Day, if the weather will clear up up north on the receiving end, I think the market will bounce back and we’ll be fine. We have less acres in Georgia this year, and I think the market in the other areas is starting to dry up between south Florida, Texas and Nogales, and that will help the supply situation.”

Once the market settles down a bit, Gibson will have a top-quality product for market.

“Quality has been outstanding, the sugar content has been very good. We just need the weather to break up on the East Coast, we really do,” Mr. Gibson said. “Watermelon is such a weather-related product — without warm weather at receiving ends, we don’t have the demand we’d ordinarily have. We’d be in much better shape if the weather was better.”

While labor has been a problem for some Florida growers this year and promises to be problematic in Georgia as well, Gibson is in good shape, working with the same crew year in and year out.

“I’m fine on labor. I’ve had the same crews for the last 10 years — the same guys I’ve always had. So labor is not an issue for me,” Mr. Gibson said. The secret to getting and keeping good help is “just treat them right and make sure they’ve got work every year and they always come back. It’s a good crew, and I couldn’t do it without them.”

Mr. Gibson could not do his job without adequate transportation either, and like all Florida growers, he has felt the trucking pinch this spring. “Trucks have been very, very tight this year — tightest I’ve seen them in I bet three years, after that fuel hike took that first big spike a few years back. That was a tough year,” Mr. Gibson said. The good news is that with oil market volatility seeming to be waning, “from what I understand, fuel is coming off a little bit.”