Delayed watermelons arrive for July picnics

By Linda Breazeale
MSU Ag Communications

MISSISSIPPI STATE ­ Mississippians love Fourth of July watermelons, and the
2013 melon crop should be worth the wait after weather delays.

David Nagel, horticulturist with the Mississippi State University Extension
Service, said the biggest challenge has been the slow growth rate that
caused some concern that the first melons might miss the holiday
celebrations. The good news is that clear, sunny days with plenty of rain
along the way have combined to produce large, tasty melons.

³Mississippi growers encountered a cooler spring this year, and that delayed
watermelons one to three weeks, depending on where farms are located,² he
said. ³The greatest delays are in northern counties.²

Nagel said the state¹s commercial acreage has not changed much in recent
years, but small plots grown for local farmers markets and roadside stands
are becoming more common.

³As consumers seek locally grown produce, farmers are attempting to meet
those demands with a variety of crops, and watermelons are a favorite,² he
said.

Nagel noted that the state¹s growers and consumers are slowly embracing
seedless varieties.

³In every other state in the union, the predominant varieties are seedless.
For some reason, they have been slower to catch on in Mississippi,² he said.
³There is basically no difference in the taste, but the seedless melons tend
to have a crisper flesh.²

Nagel said the 2013 crop did not encounter any unusual insect or disease
pressure.

³Most growers use a preventive fungicide regime because they know diseases
will attack without it,² he said.

Allen Eubanks of Eubanks Produce in Lucedale said he had to replant about
200 acres early, but then heavy rains caused further damage that delayed
early growth.

³We finally got good weather but are on average about two weeks behind
schedule. Normally, we start harvesting around June 10,² he said.

Eubanks primarily sells his watermelons to retail stores across the
Southeast. He said prices vary based on the seed variety.

³Prices on seeded watermelons are running below average, and prices on
seedless varieties are better than average,² he said.

James Earnest of Prospect Produce Farm in Chickasaw County said he will be
lucky to harvest ripe watermelons by July 4.

³The cool temperatures and light frost knocked them back and delayed early
growth. At the same time, we lost about half of our early blackberries
because of the conditions that caused pollination problems,² he said.

Mississippians¹ love of watermelons has made this large vegetable the focus
of several special events throughout the summer. One of the first is the
Farm Bureau Watermelon Classic on July 4, which includes a 7:30 a.m. 5K
run/walk at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Jackson.

Two cities host events spotlighting this summer icon. Smith County is home
to a watermelon festival July 19-20 in the Mize City Park. Water Valley in
Yalobusha County will host the 44th annual Watermelon Carnival Aug. 2-3.