Rain saturates watermelon crop, but quality melons still available

Henry Harrison, Blanchard, Tobie M.  |  7/3/2008 11:50:22 PM

News Release Distributed 07/03/08

This year the red in your red, white and blue Fourth of July celebration could be a sweet Louisiana watermelon.

Washington Parish is famous for its watermelons, but the parish in the southeast portion of Louisiana has received a good deal of rain in recent weeks. Even though the crop has water in its name, watermelons can only take so much of it this time of year before problems occur, according to LSU AgCenter agent Henry Harrison.

“We’re at a point now where we don’t want too much rain while it’s ripening up,” Harrison said of the watermelon crop. “After all, the crop is already 90 percent water, so if you put additional water on it you’re degrading the quality and taste of the watermelon.”

Too much moisture isn’t the only problem this crop has had. Cold weather in March and April harmed young watermelon plants, Harrison said. Dry weather during the growing season slowed growth, and now the rain is affecting the sweetness of the melons on the vine.

Also, plant diseases are showing up in some fields.

T.C. Arthur has been growing watermelons for 25 years. On a good year he harvests between 800 and 1,000 watermelons per acre.

“This year probably I’ll be lucky if I get 200 to the acre,” Arthur said.

Arthur has 10 acres of watermelons. Like most growers in the area, he planted the varieties Jubilee, Jubilee II, Summer Flavor 7-10 and Starbrite.

Harrison said no matter the variety, they all take on similar characteristics when they are ripe. In the field, growers look for browning tendrils near the stem. Consumers should look at the melon's belly.

“Another thing I look at is when you turn it over where it lay on the ground, a nice yellow – dark yellow – tells you that the watermelon is ripe,” Harrison said.

Many growers will have watermelons into August.

“Although our growers have had some adverse conditions, we still have quality watermelons coming out of Washington Parish,” Harrison said.

In 2007, Louisiana farmers produced more than 660,000 watermelons on 3,300 acres with a gross farm value of $6 million.

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Contact: Henry Harrison at (985) 839-7855 or hharrison@agcenter.lsu.edu

Writer: Tobie Blanchard at (225) 578-5649 or tblanchard@agcenter.lsu.edu

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