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Texas watermelon production is expected to be average with better yields but lower quality fruit than last season so far, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.
Juan Anciso, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Weslaco, and Larry Stein, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Uvalde, said the 2023 melon season was shaping up to be average in the Rio Grande Valley and Winter Garden regions. So, there should be plenty of Texas-grown watermelons to pick from at grocery stores, local farmers markets and roadside melon sellers.
Last year, watermelon production in the Rio Grande Valley dipped 17% compared to the season prior, Anciso said.
Watermelon acreage increased this year in South Texas, Anciso said. Fruit yields were about average while quality was lower due to consistent rains throughout the month of May. Producers were yielding 45,000-50,000 pounds per acre. Watermelon fields reaching 50,000 pounds per acre are average for the Rio Grande Valley.
At the beginning of the season, producers worried about drought and water supplies, but since May 1 the rains have created quality issues, Anciso said. Rainfall as the fruit developed on the vine led to lower brix measurements than in recent years, which impacted flavor and sweetness. Brix is the measurement of sugar in fruit.
Last year, dry conditions led to lower yields, but brix counts were very high, around 12, compared to this year where brix were around 10, Anciso said.
The rains also led to some issues with diseases like downy mold and fusarium, he said, which in turn also led to lower quality fruit.
“Yields are better than last year, but quality is down, and I think if you asked growers, they’d say it’s average across the board,” Anciso said. “Harvest is wrapping up in the Valley, and there are more watermelons making it to the market.”
Stein said conditions were looking up in the Winter Garden region after rains have improved soil moisture levels. Milder temperatures and moisture created ideal growing conditions for most crops including watermelons and cantaloupes.
Watermelons were vining, blooming and being pollinated by bees, but could be slightly behind schedule due to cooler temperatures this spring, Stein said. Cantaloupes are being harvested, and quality looks very good, while the watermelon harvest is about a month away.
Most Texas growers look to market their melons in the weeks leading up to the Fourth of July holiday, when sales typically peak. Stein said fruit sets looked good this year, which could indicate an above-average crop for producers.
“Other than a few issues, I can’t believe how well they are looking right now,” he said. “Melons like it hot and dry, but the milder temperatures and moisture has them looking very good.”
Factors add up to average year for melon producers
Overall, conditions are a far cry from last year when early triple-digit temperatures, high winds and drought contributed to a subpar year in the major watermelon-producing areas of Texas. High temperatures and winds negatively impacted pollination, which hurt fruit sets. Bees become less active in high temperatures and windy conditions while pollen viability begins to degrade in high temperatures.
Aside from monitoring and treating diseases due to moisture, Stein said some commercial growers were hit by hailstorms and high winds that led them to replant entire fields. But those fields looked good now. In the Valley, Anciso said growers had fewer issues with labor shortages during harvest that led to fruit being left in fields last year.
Prices were relatively static to weaker due to an abundance of melons coming in from Florida, which produced a bumper crop this year, Anciso said.
“It just seems like everything contributed to an average season,” Anciso said. “Yields were better, but quality and prices are a little lower compared to last year when we had low yields and tight supplies but high quality and no workers to harvest. When you look at the numbers, it just adds up to average.”
AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:
Producers needed sunny days to finish planting cotton, corn, sorghum and soybeans. In the last seven days, the district received 1.5 inches of rain, and more was in the forecast. Recent rainfall likely caused crop losses. When producers get into fields, they will be battling weeds. Thrips numbers seemed high, especially near wheat fields. Cotton suffered the worst from excess moisture. Forage crops and pastures were benefiting from the moisture. Wheat was either terminated or awaited harvest, and fields need to dry down before equipment can begin. Cattle were in good condition.
The occasional afternoon showers kept the ground moist, but some areas remained relatively dry. Temperatures were starting to get hotter, which should help rice from the cooler nights. Livestock were in good condition with a fair amount of forage available. Some pastures in drier areas were showing moisture stress. Rangeland and pasture conditions were poor to excellent. Ponds were full and hay was being baled at a good rate. Some producers were making their second cutting. The cattle market remained extremely strong with top-end pairs bringing up to $2,600 at local markets. Fieldwork continued. Planted cotton was up and corn was in good condition. Rice was growing fast with the warmer days. Some fields were still wet. Cool mornings and moisture were stunting cotton growth.
Trace amounts up to 3 inches of rain fell across the district. Temperatures were slightly below normal. Pecan trees reached full leaf coverage going into the summer, however fungal and bacterial infections remained prevalent. Grasses were growing well. Some hay was cut and baled. Warm-season grasses were growing. Wheat harvest was in full swing, and oat harvest was complete. Corn and sorghum looked good. Field crops were under high weed pressure. Improved pastures and rangeland looked good other than where they were overgrazed. Some rangeland was in poor condition. Livestock conditions remained good, and wildlife were in great shape with a few fawn sightings. Livestock prices were steady.
Topsoil conditions were very short to short and subsoil conditions were adequate. Potato and wheat harvests were in full swing and should be completed soon. Rangeland and pasture conditions continued to improve as areas continued to receive rainfall. Beef cattle producers reported improvements in livestock body condition scores and stocking rates. Beef cattle markets remained strong, but sale numbers continued to be below average. Supplemental feeding decreased for all livestock, but some stock tanks were beginning to dry up. Irrigated coastal Bermuda grass fields were producing good hay. Hay producers were putting up bales and were fertilizing or preparing for a second cutting. Cantaloupes and watermelons were being harvested. Corn and sorghum looked good. Sorghum was beginning to bloom, and corn fields were reaching maturity with the silk turning brown. Peanut planting continued. Cotton conditions varied from poor to good. Aerial applications were made on fields too wet to access with equipment. Weeds, midge and fleahoppers were the main concerns. Wildlife conditions were excellent with fawns being born, quail and doves paired up, and some hatching occurring.