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August 7, 2003

Many Indiana melons showing up late for harvest

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Crop-destroying July floods created few problems for melon growers in southern Indiana. Unfortunately, farmers couldn't elude adverse weather that delayed planting in April and May.

A decent, but tardy, melon harvest is expected, said Dan Egel, a Purdue University plant pathologist and watermelon specialist. Late-harvested muskmelon and watermelon crops usually mean lower prices for farmers, he said.

"Both the muskmelon and watermelon crops were planted late," said Egel, who is based at the Southwest-Purdue Agricultural Center, near Vincennes, Ind. "We're harvesting now, but because they were planted late that affects prices.

"For the most part, the earlier you can get the muskmelon and watermelon crops in, the better the prices are going to be. It's gotten to the point now where muskmelon prices are so low that the last time I checked growers are not picking anymore."

Peak market prices for muskmelons – commonly called cantaloupes – are around $1.10 per melon. At non-peak times prices can fall to about 60 cents. Watermelon prices range from 5 cents to 10 cents per pound, Egel said. Growers often spend $1,000-$1,500 per acre to produce about 4,500 cantaloupes or 45,000 pounds of watermelon, he said.

Among the 50 states, Indiana ranks fifth in cantaloupe and sixth in watermelon production. Combined, Hoosier farmers harvested nearly 10,000 acres of melons in 2002, at a production value exceeding $29 million.

Southern Indiana leads the state in melon production.

Although excessive spring rainfall and cool temperatures prevented many southern Indiana growers from planting this year's melon crops by the ideal May 1 date, most managed to escape floodwaters that traveled south from northern counties this past month.

"The floods probably haven't been as bad on vegetable crops," Egel said. "The Wabash and White rivers went up and flooded a lot of the ground that is mainly agronomic. That is, corn and soybean land. Vegetables are not usually grown in those areas. However, I do know of at least one grower who had watermelon vines under water for a while. If they're under water for a few days, the roots start to rot. After the water goes down you can see the dead vines in the field and the immature watermelons and muskmelons, which can't be picked."

Weather conditions during critical phases of crop development have provided a haven for soil-borne diseases, Egel said.

"We do have a little of a disease that we saw a few years ago that we then called 'sudden wilt' and are now calling 'mature watermelon vine decline,'" he said. "The other disease I'm seeing that I'm a little concerned about is downy mildew. This can affect watermelon, muskmelon or pumpkin. We saw it last month, and it's very unusual to see downy mildew on watermelon in Indiana in July."

The disease poses no threat to a melon's root system. Damage is limited to above-ground plant parts.

"Downy mildew only affects the leaves. In fact, it won't even go past the midrib of the leaf," Egel said. "But it can spread rapidly under the right conditions, and we've had cool, wet weather, which is perfect for it. It can go through a field in no time, and the leaves end up looking almost like they've been scorched or burned."

Writer: Steve Leer, (765) 494-8415, sleer@purdue.edu

Source: Dan Egel, (812) 886-0198, egel@purdue.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes, bforbes@aes.purdue.edu; http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/AgComm/public/agnews/

 

Related Web site
Purdue Fruit and Vegetable Connection


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