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Texas watermelon, cantaloupe producers fare well due to growing conditions, demand

Conditions perfect for setting fruit

Conditions have been ideal for cantaloupe and watermelon growers as the Fourth of July nears, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.

Dr. Larry Stein, AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Uvalde, said dry, sunny days around most of the state’s production areas created ideal conditions for cantaloupes and watermelons to grow relatively free of disease. 

Cantaloupes and watermelons are typically enjoyed in the heat of the summer, Stein said. Sales start as summer opens and then typically tail off by the end of August.

Texas is the top producer of watermelons in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, and are the No. 1 horticultural crop in Texas, Stein said. The statewide watermelon crop in 2016 was worth more than $75 million, according to AgriLife Extension annual reports, down 25 percent from more than $100 million in 2014.

Stein said the plant’s expanding root system and ability to adapt to dry conditions on dryland fields make much of the state good for watermelon and cantaloupe production. However, several areas, such as the Lower Rio Grande Valley, and North and East Texas, have higher concentrations of fields.

Bruce Frasier of Dixondale Farms in Carrizo Springs said fruit sets were good on his cantaloupe fields and spring thunderstorms, hail and wind did not cause damage during bloom.

“Conditions were perfect for setting fruit,” he said.

Frasier said there has been very little disease or pest pressure on his 400 acres planted with cantaloupe. He said he planted seeds that were treated to fend off fungus and make plants undesirable to typical pests.

Dry conditions have also allowed harvest of the irrigated crop to continue without weather delays, he said.

“Rain at this point also dilutes the sugar content, which can hurt flavor,” he said. “We’ve been able to access fields and harvest vine-ripe cantaloupes for our customers.”                                                                 

The demand for cantaloupes is growing, Frasier said. He expanded his production by 20 percent since last year and extended the growing season by having plants ready for harvest earlier this year.                  

Frasier said harvest of his Carrizo cantaloupes began in May and will continue until July 15, with cantaloupes shipped daily to most retailers around the state.

Dr. Juan Anciso, AgriLife Extension horticulturist, Weslaco, said the watermelon harvest in the Rio Grande Valley typically ends in May, but growers are keeping vines going to extend their season amid a high-demand, low-supply market.

“Growers are getting the best prices they’ve seen in years,” he said. “Oversupply from Mexico really impacted prices in the past few years. This year, Florida producers had trouble and Mexico scaled back pretty significantly, so people are paying more for watermelons.”

Watermelon fields in northern and eastern Texas typically enter harvest around the Fourth of July, when demand peaks, Anciso said.

July 4 falls on a Wednesday this year, and Frasier said the mid-week holiday typically means two weekends of active sales for his cantaloupe operation.

“There are the folks who will be taking off the weekend before through the holiday, and then there are the folks who will take off on the Fourth and that Thursday and Friday for a long weekend,” he said. “Retailers have to keep up with demand for cookouts and outdoor activities. That’s good for business.”

AgriLife Extension district reporters compiled the following summaries:

The 12 Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Districts

CENTRAL: Dry conditions continued, however, some isolated showers occurred. More rain was needed. Dry conditions caused stunted growth of grain sorghum, and corn was without ears in some areas. Wheat harvest was starting to wrap up with great yields. Cattle remained in good condition. Stock tanks and river water levels were dropping. Most counties reported good soil moisture. Overall crop rangeland and pasture conditions were good.

ROLLING PLAINS: Days were hot and windy. However, rain was reported in the latter part of the reporting period in some areas with amounts ranging from a trace to 1.5 inches, which improved pasture conditions for grazing. Producers were still supplementing feed up to four times a week. Hay harvest continued with below average yields. Most wheat was harvested, and cotton planting was in full swing. More rain was needed across the entire district.

COASTAL BEND: Soil moisture was very short, leaving most areas in drought. All crops were suffering from lack of moisture, with some fields completely burned up. Cotton was blooming, and farmers were irrigating fields where possible. Grain sorghum was coloring. Yield reductions were expected. The first hay cutting was small and pastures already appeared scorched. Livestock remained in fair condition. Local auctions were reflecting larger sales volumes due to costs and availability of supplemental feed. Some producers were considering early weaning and culling of livestock.  

EAST: Most of the district had not received substantial rainfall amounts for several weeks, which caused visible signs of plant stress and decreased production. Angelina, Gregg, Harrison, Panola and Wood were the only counties that reported any rainfall. Cherokee County reported drought conditions were causing pastures and hay meadows to show signs of stress and surface water to dry up. Harrison County reported the first hay cutting was complete, and most fields produced about 60 percent of normal yields. Many Cherokee County producers were purchasing hay from other areas. Anderson County reported hay was cut and baled with yields around 2-2.25 round bales per acre. Jasper County reported growing conditions were excellent. Pasture and rangeland conditions were fair to good in some counties with Anderson, Cherokee, Tyler, Shelby and Smith counties reporting very poor conditions. Anderson County reported corn, soybeans and grain sorghum all needed rain, and peas, potatoes, beans, onions, squash, tomatoes, melons, blueberries, blackberries and peaches were all being harvested. Marion County producers with gardens had to water and some have lost gardens due to the lack of rain. Anderson County pecan trees looked good with a moderate to heavy crop and pecan scab was under control. Subsoil moisture conditions in Houston, Shelby and Tyler counties were very short. Cherokee, Harrison, Smith, Jasper, Marion and Gregg counties all reported short subsoil conditions. Harrison, Rusk, Marion and Smith counties all reported short topsoil conditions. Topsoil conditions in Cherokee, Houston, Shelby, Gregg and Tyler counties were all very short. Livestock were in fair to good condition throughout the district. Gregg County reported cattle prices held steady at the local sale barn. Feral hog activity was high in Anderson and Wood counties while Anderson and Houston counties reported ever-increasing numbers of horn flies. Gregg County producers applied herbicides to pastures.  

SOUTH PLAINS: The district received 0.5-2.75 inches of rain, depending on the location. The rain should give dryland cotton seeds the push needed to emerge. Some areas were still in a severe drought. The deadline for cotton planting for federal insurance passed, and producers, especially those farming dryland, were forced to make decisions about what and when to plant. Row-crop producers finished initial planting stages and were possibly facing replant due to the dry conditions. Many acres of cotton were not expected to emerge because of drought. Farmers were hustling to get sorghum, cane and haygrazer planted. Growers were sand-fighting to combat the high winds and temperatures. Pasture, rangeland and winter wheat needed additional rain. Ranchers were looking to sell cows because pastures were in poor condition. Cattle body condition scores were good.

PANHANDLE: Conditions were hot and windy. Temperatures continued to be above average. Moore County was very hot with three days at 100 degrees. Soil moisture continued to be short to very short. Moisture was needed throughout the district. Scattered moisture was received, but amounts were limited. Wheat in Ochiltree County was ripening at a rapid rate. Winter wheat harvest was right around the corner with many dryland fields more than ready, and yields were expected to be very low. Cotton was planted and emerging with irrigated fields coming along great with the high number of heat units. A small rain event in Hall County was expected to help dryland cotton emerge, but more moisture will be needed to allow fields to progress and finish. Dryland sorghum planting started. Corn with irrigation progressed quickly. Pasture and cattle conditions were holding, but conditions were expected to decline without rain.

NORTH: Topsoil and subsoil moisture levels ranged from mostly adequate to short across the counties. Temperatures were above average along with high humidity. Some counties received 1.5-3 inches of much-needed rain. Wheat and oat harvests continued. Wheat farmers reported 40-70 bushels per acre, and oat farmers reported yields of 50-70 bushels per acre. Corn, cotton and soybeans were doing well with no reports of disease or pest problems. Corn exited the vegetative growth stage and was in the reproductive stage. Pastures looked good and warm-season grasses were doing well. Livestock were in great condition, but insect populations increased, which added stress to livestock. Feral hog activity was light.

FAR WEST: Temperatures ranged from highs over 100 degrees to lows in the 70s. A few areas of the district received from a trace to 2.25 inches of rain. Severe drought conditions continued through a majority of the district. Fires and wind in the area were still a concern. Irrigated crops struggled to emerge, including irrigated cotton. Almost no dryland cotton had emerged, and the crop needed a significant rain to start and more to stay alive. Corn was barely hanging on, but pollination was underway. Sorghum and melons were struggling. Pecan and other fruit trees needed water. A second round of pecan nut casebearer traps were placed to track any post-treatment infestations. Young pecan trees needed foliar applications of zinc. Lawns and gardens needed additional water, and AgriLife Extension agents were recommending growers take soil samples for nutritional deficiencies and to assess possible fertilizer applications.

WEST CENTRAL: Conditions were hot and dry with isolated thunderstorms. Rainfall amounts ranged from traces up to 3 inches. Some wind and hail damage was reported. Wheat harvest neared completion with below-average yields. Cotton planting was underway. Some of the early planted sorghum was flowering. Corn looked good and was tasseling. Rangeland and pastures were in fair to good condition. Livestock water sources were getting critically low in some areas. Some livestock producers were hauling water for livestock. Pastures were getting really short, and ranchers started to sell older cows in some parts of the district.

SOUTHEAST: Conditions were hot and dry, with parts of the district receiving spotty showers, which provided temporary relief for crops. Livestock were in fair to good condition with some producers already feeding hay. Pastures and crops were stressed due to high temperatures and dry conditions. Soil moisture levels were holding even with the limited amount of moisture received. Rangeland and pasture ratings varied from excellent to very poor with fair ratings being most common. Soil-moisture levels ranged from adequate to very short with short being most common.

SOUTHWEST: Extremely hot and dry weather depleted soil moisture levels significantly. There was still forage available, however it was rapidly becoming limited. Some counties were under a burn ban. Corn was declining fast. Sorghum needed rain. Soybean fields will likely not reach their potential plant height or yield without rain.

SOUTH: Hot, dry weather conditions continued short to very short moisture levels. Most of the district reported very short moisture conditions. There were no reports of rain. All field crops were under irrigation, and hay was being cut and baled. Some livestock producers started feeding hay, and hay prices were increasing. Chipper potato and food corn harvests continued. Peanut planting continued and should be completed soon. Pasture and rangeland conditions continued to decline due to lack of rainfall and high temperatures. Body condition scores on cattle remained mostly fair. Crops like Coastal Bermuda grass, watermelons, cantaloupes and onions irrigated by canal systems were in good condition. Irrigated sorghum and cotton made good progress. Corn planted early was approaching maturity. There were more reports of failed sorghum fields, and in most cases those fields were being baled for livestock feed. Dryland cotton needed water, and yields were expected to be impacted. Onion harvest was completed in some areas. Stock tanks were empty and pastures were in poor condition in Kleberg and Kennedy counties. Extremely high temperatures and drought conditions in some parts of the district were stressing improved pastures and native rangeland. Producers provided supplemental feed in some areas. In Hidalgo County, citrus harvest was complete, and sunflower and onion harvests were winding down. Watermelon harvest was very active.

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