A Summer Tradition is Harvested

Friday, May 26, 2017
By: Stacey Howell,

Watermelon and vegetable season are wrapping up in southern Florida just in time for you to enjoy your favorite summer foods. Memorial Day and 4th of July are the times when the retail stores load up on watermelons for all the outdoor parties and barbecues. Memorial Day is really not a factor for watermelon growers in my area because they’re done harvesting. However, in other areas, growers will try to get a lot of their volume shipped prior to Memorial Day when retail is stocking up on melons.

Most Florida melons are shipped to the eastern part of the U.S. with most going into the Northeast. Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and California supply the western half of the U.S. In southern Florida, prices for melons were good this year. However, yields were off due to viruses transmitted by whiteflies. Poor market conditions in other crops such as tomatoes/peppers caused growers to spend less on inputs affecting insect and disease pressure during the watermelon growing season. Couple that with dry weather, and there was a perfect storm for a very high whitefly population that could not be controlled. Most growers in my territory lost money due to yields being far less than average.

Did You Know?

Florida is among the top watermelon-producing states, with more than 20,000 acres planted in a typical year.

For vegetables, it was a warm year. We really didn’t have much of a winter down here, so the weather was good. The problem in vegetable crops such as tomatoes and peppers has been the market conditions. This was probably the worst year for all commodity pricing that I’ve seen in a long time. The cause of that is Mexico. In Mexico, they’re able to produce their crops at a cheaper cost per acre than what we can do and so they ship it across the border for less than we can pick and pack it. Mexico is about the same latitude/longitude as Florida, so normally it takes some kind of weather event either on our end or their end to spike the market, and it just didn’t happen this year.

Right now, we’re completely done with watermelons in my area. They’ll start harvesting usually in the first week of April. This year it was a little bit earlier because of the weather. Then, it goes in stages just like anything else. So we start harvesting first in the southern part of Florida in April. Usually there’s a two- to three-week window and then they start in Arcadia, which is about an hour north of us, and then it goes right on up the road into Georgia. There will be a two- to three-week window for each area and then it moves a little further north

How are watermelons harvested?

(A watermelon field is typically harvested two to three times, with most of the volume coming during the second cutting.)

You’ll have a crew go through with long knives, and they’ll cut the watermelons (from the vine) and roll them over so the white part of their belly sticks out and you can see them.

Then you’ve got a crew that walks through and loads the melons, usually it’s into a school bus with the window section cut out. From the field they are hauled to the packing shed and packed into bins or boxes.

Meet the Author

Stacey Howell holding watermelons

Stacey Howell grew up on a Florida vegetable farm and received his B.S. in Agriculture from the University of Florida. He has been with Bayer for 9 years and oversees the Southwest Florida Territory (Lee, Collier, Hendry, and Glades counties). The main crops in his area include vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, cucurbits), citrus, watermelons sugar cane, and peanuts.


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