South Florida watermelon production could use a productive season following last year’s impact from COVID-19. Unfortunately, wind damage may derail farmers’ hopes.
“Everything’s beat up from the wind and the cold. The crops that were planted super early more so than the ones that were planted late. I think if the weather stays like it is, the quality will be exceptionally good. But I think yields will be low,” said Greg Collier, Florida watermelon producer.
Collier said sustained wind speeds reached 30mph with gusts of 45mph.
“Wind is one of the hardest things there is on a watermelon, and it’s pretty democratic, everybody gets it. We might get a four-inch rain and the guy two miles down the road might miss it altogether,” Collier said. “I might frost or freeze, and you might not. But the wind is the same everywhere. Everybody gets 35mph wind and it beats them up.”
The potential lack of yields is disheartening considering how COVID impacted the market last season. Just as harvests were beginning to start across the South Florida region, the pandemic shut the country down.
“We experienced no business. When we were rolling into harvest last year, the market was (more than) 40 cents (per pound) on the off-shore Mexican stuff. A couple of guys in Immokalee (Florida) started a few loads and then the COVID deal hit. They sent everybody home. They went to the stores, bought up a bunch of groceries to take home with them and never came back to the stores. Then they started closing the stores down, especially in the northeast,” Collier said.
“New York got hit real bad, which, that’s one of the prime sales areas for Florida is the New York area; Philly, Baltimore, Boston, New York City. That’s where a ton of our stuff goes to.”
Collier plans to start harvesting fruit in South Florida in the second week in April. There is fruit on the vine now that is a little bigger than a softball.
Collier is part of Global Produce Sales, a marketer of watermelons. They’ll have fields in Moore Haven, Florida; Plant City, Florida; North Florida, South Georgia, Indiana, North Carolina and Delaware.
“We had a phenomenal year in north Florida and Georgia. Indiana was really good. But South Florida was not so much,” Collier said.