Imperial Valley has a long and historic relationship with growing melons.
The Spanish Friars included melons in their mission gardens, and melons were grown on a small scale throughout California during the 19th century. The first larger commercial cantaloupe fields were planted here in the Imperial Valley in the early 1900s, according to the California Department of Food and Agricultural webpage. To reach the east coast market, the melons were flown to ensure freshness. Soon the melons were shipped in refrigerated railroad cars, lowering the transportation costs.
The industry started to expand beyond the Imperial Valley in 1919. By the 1950s, about 40 percent of California production was in the Imperial Valley, and most of the remainder in the San Joaquin Valley, according to the CDFA.
Melons are now grown in various parts of the world, which has until recently this season been dominating the market. But now, domestic supplies of honeydew and cantaloupe melons are starting to build.
“There are three separate areas where melons would be coming from right now,” said Justin Bootz with Legend Produce LLC in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Offshore melons are still trickling in, though less so on the West Coast. “Most offshore importers are going to be done with offshore cantaloupes here in the West probably this week,” he said in Fresh Plaza. “On the East Coast, they might be a week longer with supplies from Central America. Supplies are pretty decent on both coasts but heavier on the East.”
Good supplies of cantaloupe and honeydew are also still coming out of Mexico via Nogales, Arizona, Bootz reported.
However domestically, supplies of both melons started last week and production is now just coming on. “It starts out low and ramps up pretty quickly,” said Bootz, noting the growing regions are Brawley, California, Imperial Valley California, and Yuma, Arizona. “We’ll pick out of Yuma this week and continue out of Brawley and there’ll be an overlap there for the next three weeks to a month. And then we focus mostly on Yuma for the rest of spring,” he said.
He adds that the quality is strong this year on crop as well. “It’s probably one of the best crops we’ve seen in a while. It’s very consistent and very sweet and looks great,” said Bootz in Fresh Plaza.
As for demand, this is the time of year when retailers look to switch from offshore product to domestic, so demand is strong from larger retail chains.
“But outside of the retail stores, I’m not sensing a huge amount of demand. We’re not getting a lot of calls from brokers, etc. quite yet. That could be because they’re waiting for us to start,” he said in Fresh Plaza. “For offshore melons, you can sense demand is dwindling and being replaced by demand for domestic melons.”
Pricing currently is matching historical levels of pricing. “For nine count we’re quoting $16.95 and for 12s, $14.95 and that’s pretty typical for the first week of the deal,” Bootz said. “With offshore melons still available, it’s pretty standard pricing for this scenario. Then as supply ramps up, prices will come down and stabilize.”
In the last published Imperial County Agricultural Crop report, it was reported in 2019 that almost 7,000 acres locally are dedicated to the various melon crops, including watermelon.
Astrid Van Den Broek of Fresh Plaza contributed to this article.