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Mississippians await July 4th watermelons
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Watermelon harvests have begun in some Mississippi counties, but homegrown supplies are slower for other parts of the state.
George County extension agent Mike Steede said some harvesting started the first week of June for the county's 600 to 700 acres of watermelons, and the biggest challenge this year has been the recent rains.
"Up until the tropical storm (Allison), we were having a dry growing season," Steede said. "About 70 percent of the county's crop is irrigated, so the rains mainly helped the smaller, non-irrigated fields."
Steede said the dry growing season means sweeter melons and fewer disease problems. Areas with too much rain could experience increased diseases such as gummy stem blight and anthracnose. Both are controllable if the weather dries enough to allow timely applications of fungicides.
David Nagel, horticulture specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said growers planted much of the state's crop of about 5,000 acres early.
"Overall, the crop is running slightly ahead of schedule," Nagel said. "Growing conditions were ideal initially. First, it was pretty warm and helped get the crop started, and then it turned mild so the crop didn't burn up. Most of the crop was able to set a good fruit load and without a drought, all that fruit should mature."
Nagel said some growers reported problems with aphids early in the season.
Madison County agent Otis Davis said 33 acres planted for harvest before July the Fourth holiday will not be available. The early crop didn't bloom, possibly from some sort of chemical damage. The rest of Madison County's 300 to 400 acres are targeting the Labor Day holiday demand.
Locally grown watermelons are not as common in Mississippi as they once were. Water Valley, home of the Watermelon Carnival in August, was known as the Watermelon Capital of the World until the loss of railroad access contributed to the decline in acres.
"When the railroad left, people went to more traditional crops. The carnival was revived, but not the crop," said Steve Cummings, Yalobusha County agent. "Now we've got some planted in gardens and small patches, but nothing compared to 30 or 40 years ago."