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Winter Storm Uri and subsequent cool, wet weather have made the 2021 growing season tough on Texas watermelons, but decent prices are helping producers, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts. Watermelons in South Texas got a late start due to the winter storm in February, said Juan Anciso, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Weslaco. Many fields under hoop tunnels experienced delays and required partial replanting due to the cold weather. Harvest typically begins April 15 in hoop tunnels and typically peaks with traditional field-grown watermelons by mid-May for Memorial Day weekend, Anciso said. Rain has also presented delays and challenges during harvesting, he said. Fields were left muddy by 8-10 inches of rainfall, which has made harvest difficult. Trucks and trailers were stuck in fields and crews faced tough conditions, including heavy mosquito infestations. Additionally, hiring workers to harvest has been more difficult than in past seasons. Anciso said the freeze helped reduce white fly populations, which in turn reduced the transmission of viral diseases. The wet weather caused concerns about fungal diseases, but farmers have been vigilant about spray applications to keep disease infestations down. The rains, however, have not affected melon quality, Anciso said. Brix counts, the measurement for sweetness have remained at 10-plus. Brix counts of 10 are standard sweetness, while 11 and above indicate exceptionally sweet. Watermelon color both inside and outside were also meeting market standards. Heavy rains at the wrong time can waterlog melons, which thins their Brix count and the redness of the fruit and causes their outer layer to turn white, Anciso said. Last year, Florida had difficultly with their crop at harvest because COVID-19 impacted their seasonal harvesting crews, Anciso said. The subsequent shortage of melons coming out of Florida made demand and prices for Texas watermelons climb. Texas watermelon prices peaked at between 33-35 cents per pound at wholesale. This year, Florida watermelons have normalized demand, and Texas watermelons were fetching 20-22 cents per pound at wholesale, Anciso said. Prices are still markedly better than they were in 2019 when watermelons were at 14-16 cents per pound wholesale and producers were losing $1,000 per acre planted on average, he said. “The prices are still good, they’re just not as high as they were getting, and all the difficulties between the freeze and pulling out equipment and having trouble finding harvesting crews make margins a little thinner,” he said. Larry Stein, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Uvalde, said growing conditions have been similar to those in South Texas and have created similar delays. The cooler, rainy weather since late April could mean delays in watermelon fields typically scheduled to meet the Fourth of July market demand window. Vines in the Winter Garden region are starting to bloom, and beehives are onsite to pollinate. Female watermelon flowers typically need 15 visits by bees to deliver enough pollen for proper fruit set, Stein said. The process from bloom to vine-ripe fruit being ready for harvest typically takes 30 days, which means the timing could be tighter than producers prefer. “It will be good for producers who sell from a fruit stand or let people pick their own,” he said. “But producers typically want them coming off the vine a week to 10 days before the holiday weekend to meet the wholesale orders and get them to grocers in time. But plants are about seven to 10 days behind schedule right now.” AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries: SOUTHWEST Pasture and rangeland conditions were steadily improving due to frequent moisture and seasonal temperatures. Wheat harvest was delayed in some areas due to wet weather. Fieldwork slowed. Corn, cotton and sorghum crops were doing well. Wilson County reported sugarcane aphids and fall armyworms were present after recent rains. Livestock conditions were fair to good and improving. Supplemental feeding of livestock declined. Sheep and goat prices remained steady and high. Caldwell County reported cattle prices were fair. SOUTH Scattered showers delivered trace amounts up to 4.5 inches across the district. Soil moisture levels were short to surplus, but most areas improved significantly over the past few weeks. Nearly all crop fields responded well to the rain. Cotton was drowned out or waterlogged in some locations and progressing well with good moisture in most areas. Corn was silking in some areas and in good shape overall. Sweet corn harvest was underway in some areas. Pastures and rangelands were in good condition and improving, but some overgrazed pastures were still in bad condition. Hay production occurred between rains, but some producers were still waiting for their first cutting. Strawberries and cool-season vegetables were still producing for some farmers due to cooler conditions. Wheat and oat harvests were almost complete. Peanut planting continued with some delays due to rain. Irrigated crops like watermelons, cantaloupes and Coastal Bermuda grass looked good. There were some delays to watermelon, cantaloupe and other harvests due to wet conditions. Cattle were doing well with steady prices in all classes at market, and sales and deeper culling reduced drastically. Producers in drier areas were still selling calves, culling and providing supplemental feed for livestock and wildlife. Wildlife benefitted from the rains and new growth as well. Food plots of sunflowers and sorghum improved and progressed following rains but were not seeding out yet. Feed prices continued to rise. Sesame and soybean fields also improved.