BLACKVILLE – Watermelons saw a robust year and not just during the summer.
“Historically, the watermelon market peaked for July 4 sales and although sales around the July 4 holiday continue to be strong, the watermelon market in recent years remains bullish post July 4 sales,” said Dr. Gilbert Miller, Clemson Extension area vegetable specialist.
“In addition to the excellent flavor and quality of watermelons, consumers are becoming more aware of the watermelon's health benefits," Miller said.
"Consequently, the watermelon market has become more of a year-round market'," he said. “Because of this increase in consumer demand for watermelons, there is more acreage of fall-planted watermelons in the county (region).”
Miller, who works at Clemson University's Edisto Research and Education Center in Blackville, said according to last year’s and this year’s statistics, watermelon production was good.
The demand for pre-packaged cut melons has increased dramatically in recent years and some of the watermelons, cantaloupes and specialty melons grown in the region are being sold for cut melon sales, he noted.
“The spring watermelon market price was moderately strong for the early harvests," Miller said. "Extensive rain and a late season freeze reduced the watermelon acreage in Georgia and Florida.”
“Consequently, the South Carolina market opened relatively high for early season watermelons. In general, the price remained adequate throughout the season, and the fall market price has remained adequate as well."
Locally, Mother Nature was kinder to watermelon growers than farmers further south.
“Fortunately, in 2018 we did not have any unexpected or severe weather problems overall," Miller said. "Some isolated locations might have gotten excessive rain which was detrimental to the crop, but overall we did not have excessive rain.”
As always, there were some growers who just didn't receive as much rain.
“Of greater concern was lack of water in some growing areas," Miller said. "The fruit itself contains a significant amount of water (92 percent in watermelons). Even a short duration of too little water can dramatically reduce the yield and quality of the produce.”
The vast majority of the fruits and vegetables grown commercially in Bamberg County are drip irrigated, he said.
Miller said his research has shown that a well-managed drip irrigated and fertigated (nutrients added through drip irrigation) field can be a tremendous asset toward high yields and excellent quality produce.
Most growers experienced the expected spring disease and insect pest problems in 2018, he said.
“With judicious use of crop protectants, most spring disease and insect problems were adequately controlled,” Miller said. “The fall planted curcurbit crops (watermelons, cantaloupes, squashes and pumpkins) did experience extremely populous squash bug damage.”
The squash bug begins sucking juices from the stem of the juvenile plant from the time it is planted, he said.
“This probing by the squash bug disrupts the water conducting vessels in the plant," he said. "Sometimes the death of the plant is delayed until fruit are setting on the plant, and the plant can’t provide the necessary water to keep up with the increased demand for water."