Farm and Ranch
Heat makes for sweet watermelons, very good yields
By Susan Himes, Texas A&M
Jun 20, 2024
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Texas watermelon growers are reporting very good yields and high quality this year, according to Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service experts.

Producers in both of the state’s primary growing regions, the Rio Grande Valley and Winter Garden, report a strong season with minimal issues producing the summertime-favorite melon.

“Overall, we are seeing more pounds per acre this year,” said Juan Anciso, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension horticulture program leader and associate head of the Texas A&M Department of Horticultural Science based at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco. “Quality is also very high this year with good sweetness levels.”

Weather, prices good for watermelon growers

Anciso said the season started with producers getting much higher prices per pound than last year, in the low 30-cent-per-pound range. But prices have since declined, and producers are getting between 18-22 cents per pound. That is slightly down from this same time last year, but Anciso said prices overall have been on par with last season.

Yields are up, and Texas watermelons should be especially sweet due to the hot, dry weather. (Sam Craft/Texas A&M AgriLife)

A few producers had pest or disease issues or suffered losses from hail, but for the industry as a whole, it was a very good growing season, said Larry Stein, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension horticulturist and professor in the Department of Horticultural Sciences, Uvalde.

The heat has helped producers realize more weight per melon than in past years, Stein said. The hotter weather also helped the melons develop good brix counts, which weren’t as good last year because of untimely rains. Brix is the measurement of sugar in fruit.

“Watermelons love the heat,” Stein said. “We have had what they call ‘watermelon weather,’ and as long as producers have the water they need, that makes for good production and excellent melons.”

Harvesting of watermelons

The Rio Grande Valley has been dry for most of the growing season, which led to a later and longer harvest than usual, with watermelons still being picked last week. The drier weather and limited irrigation water in the Valley shifted some production to the Winter Garden.

“Our production is actually up in the Winter Garden this year because of the lack of water in the Valley,” Stein said. “We have had some production coming up to us because of the water shortage there, and our plants are doing well.”

Harvest in the Winter Garden comes later than the Valley harvest. Watermelons in the Winter Garden are mostly grown under center pivot irrigation whereas most Valley watermelons are grown on plastic with drip irrigation. The plastic heats up the soil, which ripens watermelons faster, Stein explained.

“So, we are always later on harvest because it takes the melons in the Winter Garden region a bit longer to get going,” Stein said. “That is typically good for producers who want to go to market closer to the Fourth of July holiday.”

Rio Grande Valley and Winter Garden production

Anciso said the lower prices will likely rise with demand going into the Fourth of July weekend.

“I believe consumers will pay a little bit more than they did last year as a whole, but there’s plenty of Texas watermelons to be had for the holiday,” Anciso said.

Both Stein and Anciso said consumers can buy their Fourth of July watermelons anytime the week before the holiday. Unlike some other fruits, watermelons will not ripen further once they are off the vine.

That said, the sweetness of a melon is determined by when the melon is picked. The sugar content increases the longer the melon is on the vine.

Those who prefer sweeter melons should look for a creamy-yellow belly and listen for the deeper sound when “thumping” to check ripeness. A hollow or flat thud, or too much yellow, however, indicates a melon may be mealy and past its prime. Texas seedless watermelons are also good options for consumers who prefer a sweeter taste overall.

Once purchased, watermelons can be kept in the refrigerator to keep them cool and prolong their quality. Those left on a counter should ideally be eaten within several days.