Logan Kelley, left, and other pickers throw watermelons to Luke Wallace in June 2018 at one of Greg Green Farms’ watermelon patches near Henderson.

Special to the News-Journal

The Texas watermelon crop was delayed by spring weather, but plenty of green stripers should be available for the Fourth of July holiday, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert.

Larry Stein, AgriLife Extension horticulturist in Uvalde, said the state’s melon crops were showing good fruit sets and progressing well after a challenging spring.

It’s not all about cookouts and fun, though. Big bucks can be at stake. Watermelons were an $87.5 million crop in 2018, according to an AgriLife Extension economic report. Other melons add more than $5 million to that crop value.

And Texas continues to rank No. 1 in the nation in watermelon production, Stein said.

The state’s producers avoided major disease and pest issues this season. However, cloudy weather has pushed their grow date later than usual. Some areas in which melons are typically ripening in time for the Fourth of July holiday weekend could miss that peak melon-sales period.

“They want to have them ready for market a week to 10 days before the holiday weekend,” Stein said. “The cloudy weather may delay the beginning of harvest for a lot of producers who usually aim for that window.”

Producers in the Rio Grande Valley have been harvesting early varieties for a few weeks and should have plenty of melons for July 4. Other melon-producing areas, including the Texas Wintergarden area, Central Texas and East Texas should follow.

Cloudy days may delay harvest, but recent sunshine should improve flavor, Stein said.

“It’s the sunshine that matters,” he said. “Cloudy weather slows growth, but the leaves can’t manufacture the sugar for the melon, so taste could be a problem on some early varieties if they haven’t been getting the sun they need.”

Producers applied fungicides to avoid disease issues related to above-average soil moisture levels, but their management of wind could be an issue as the crops progress.

Stein said windbreaks are sometimes overlooked as a valuable part of melon production. Some producers plant winter wheat and leave rows of stubble for vines to cling to throughout the season as well as reduce the impact of winds.