Watermelon crop behind schedule, Texas growers worry ahead of July 4th

Texas

LULING, TX (Nexstar) — Spring weather has delayed the Texas watermelon harvest, casting doubt on the supply ahead of the Fourth of July holiday.

Fields across the state are behind schedule due to weather, meaning peak sales for the summer holiday are in jeopardy statewide, growers say.

Gary Collins first started growing watermelons 66 years ago. This season, he said, has been “pretty rough.”

“Ground was cold, ground was real cold,” Collins said.

In Luling, watermelons have an extra level of importance. The city of just over 5,400 is celebrating 65 years of hosting its annual Watermelon Thump, a festival featuring music, a carnival, and watermelons of course.

“Everybody wants our local Luling melons,” Collins said. He’s worried that the festival and holiday weekend spell trouble.

Gary Collins, who has grown watermelons for more than 65 years, checks the fruit at his stand in Luling, Texas, on June 26, 2019. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)

“We always try to plant around the first week in March but the ground didn’t warm up this year until the first part of May,” Collins explained.

“They want to have them ready for market a week to 10 days before the holiday weekend,” Texas A&M AgriLife Extension horticulturist Dr. Larry Stein said. “The cloudy weather may delay the beginning of harvest for a lot of producers who usually aim for that window.”

“Everybody has to have a piece of watermelon on the Fourth of July because it’s hot on the Fourth of July,” Stein said. “This year, we are going to have watermelons that will be available, maybe not the peak amount that we would typically see.”

According to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Texas ranks No. 1 in the nation in watermelon production. The fruit was an $87.5 million crop in 2018, according to an AgriLife Extension economic report, with other melons adding more than $5 million to that crop value.

Statewide, growers in the Rio Grande Valley have been harvesting early varieties for a few weeks and should have plenty of melons for July 4. Other melon-producing areas, including the Texas Wintergarden area, Central Texas and East Texas should follow.

Stein, based in Uvalde, said producers avoided widespread pest issues and major diseases. This year’s biggest hurdle was sunshine.

“The amount of rain really won’t affect the flavor,” he said. “It’s the sunshine that matters. Cloudy weather slows growth, but the leaves can’t manufacture the sugar for the melon, so taste could be a problem on some early varieties if they haven’t been getting the sun they need.”

Collins said the region used to be home to more than 150 growers. This year, he’s aware of less than a dozen still operating.

“Everything has changed,” he said, noticing his acreage is down to 5-10 acres from 150-200 acres. Despite those adjustments, Collins continues to grow the summer staple.

“It’s in my blood,” he said, adding that he’s thankful to keep thumping away on melons day after day.

“I enjoy it, it’s something I can do, and my heart is in it,” Collins said.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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