Henry Harrison, Morgan, Johnny W. | 10/4/2004 4:23:48 AM
And those tasty melons that make the summer heat and humidity in Louisiana a little more tolerable also contribute to the state’s economy.
Watermelons are produced across the state in at least 15 different parishes, according to experts with the LSU AgCenter, and the crop contributes more than $3 million to Louisiana’s economy.
Most of the production occurs in four parishes – Washington, Bienville, Beauregard and Ouachita – where the income to farmers last year was more than $2.4 million, according to the latest figures from the LSU AgCenter.
Washington leads the state with 75 watermelon producers who cultivated 750 acres of watermelons and generated more than $810,000 last year. It’s followed by Beauregard with 50 producers on 500 acres and $525,000 in farm income; Bienville with 12 producers on 500 acres and $750,000 in income; and Ouachita with 11 producers on 165 acres and $324,000.
Other parishes where watermelons are produced commercially include Morehouse, Richland, Union, Vernon, Webster, Winn, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, Red River, St. James and St. John.
Watermelons are a summertime treat in Louisiana – particularly around the Fourth of July – and LSU AgCenter county agent Henry Harrison of Washington Parish says that while recent rains delayed the crop, things are looking up.
Harrison said this season started off looking good, but recent rains have not been good for the crop.
"The melons are normally being pulled by mid-June, but the rain has set them back a couple of weeks this year," Harrison said in late June. "You may see a big watermelon, but it’s not ripe yet."
On the other hand, he said the melons started to come in around the first of July.
Harrison, like many LSU AgCenter agents, works to help rural families find ways to make the most of their resources.
In one such case, he’s working with Harvey and Missy Bienvenu. It’s their first year as watermelon growers after they decided they needed to find an alternative to dairy farming.
The Bienvenus said they are looking forward to selling some of the melons in their 20-acre patch.
Harvey Bienvenu said he was able to get out of the dairy business through a buyout program last year and that he’s looking forward to the melon business being a success. "My wife is also ready for me to bring in some real income," he said.
Missy Bienvenu is a freelance journalist who has won national awards for magazine feature writing, but lately she’s also been very involved in the farm, putting lots of time and energy into helping to market and advertise the melons.
She designed their business cards and fliers and painted the sign in front of their house. "She's also called on several businesses in Washington and St. Tammany parishes to tell them about our watermelons. She's my all-purpose assistant, bookeeper, secretary and so forth, too," Harvey Bienvenu said.
It looks like the next couple of weeks will be good for the Bienvenus. He said the produce buyer from Rouse’s Supermarket was interested in buying a load for the Fourth of July holiday. Other than the supermarket, Bienvenu hopes to sell lots of melons to roadside vendors.
Harrison said that the LSU AgCenter has been a promoter of watermelon production and marketing in Washington Parish since 1983, when a group of watermelon and vegetable producers met to establish a vegetable growers association and a watermelon festival.
As a result of those efforts, 123 farm families are growing 15 different vegetables and fruits in the area, and the income to farmers totals nearly $1 million from watermelon sales alone.
For more information on the work of the LSU AgCenter or the value of agricultural crops, visit www.lsuagcenter.com.