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UGA vegetable horticulturist looking to enhance Georgia's top vegetable crop By Clint Thompson
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Research by the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences could help Georgia’s watermelon growers produce sweeter results.

UGA vegetable horticulturalist Tim Coolong conducts variety trial testing on watermelons as part of his work on the UGA Tifton Campus. He is researching the productivity and quality of multiple watermelon varieties tested at different locations and in various conditions statewide.

Georgia farmers transport the bulk of the state’s watermelon crop in bin containers, so they rely on Coolong’s research to tell them how different varieties stack up. If a sweeter, more productive melon is developed that also meets farmers’ demands, they’ll be more likely to embrace Coolong’s research.

Last year’s seedless watermelon varieties trials yielded promising results, Coolong said. The seedless melons produced excess fruit with decent size, very good quality and little hollow heart, which can downgrade a watermelon’s marketability.

“We really like to see how the varieties break down as far as 36-count, 45-count. Size of the 36-count melons is usually about 18 pounds to about 21 pounds on average. A lot of our growers really need that information if their contract is primarily for 36-count fruit,” he said. “If a farmer’s contract is for 45-count fruit, they need to know if this variety will produce a majority percent of the fruit in the 45-count range.”

Strengthened by an almost $144 million farm gate value in 2013, according to the UGA Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development, Georgia’s watermelon crop tops the state’s list of most productive vegetables. Watermelons accounted for 14.4 percent of the state’s vegetable crop, topping bell peppers, sweet corn and onions. Georgia’s top 10 watermelon-producing counties by value are Berrien, Colquitt, Cook, Crisp, Dooly, Telfair, Tift, Turner, Wilcox and Worth, all of which are located in south Georgia.

Coolong credits south Georgia watermelon farmers for the rise in the crop. “If you could pick one vegetable that’s grown over a wide area in south Georgia, it would be watermelon. It’s grown in Dooly County, down to Lowndes County, over to Wheeler and into Toombs County,” Coolong said. “We have a lot of acres.”

Georgia’s watermelon farmers will hear more about Coolong’s research and will receive updates about the watermelon industry at this week’s Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center. Coolong is one of multiple UGA scientists and Extension agents who will speak at the event, set for Thursday through Saturday, Jan. 8-10.

“This is the largest produce-related trade show and educational program in the Southeastern United States. It allows growers to network with colleagues, see new products and step in to any number of educational programs. Because of the diversity of programming at the conference, it allows growers to get updated on what they are already growing as well as attend sessions on different crops to see if they might want to grow something new,” Coolong said.

(Clint Thompson is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences based in Tifton.)

Watermelon workers
Watermelon workers

Beau Lamb tosses a watermelon into a truck, as Robert Ames writes down its weight while working at the UGA Tifton Campus. The two student workers work for vegetable horticulturist Tim Coolong.

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Beau Lamb tosses a watermelon into a truck, as Robert Ames writes down its weight while working at the UGA Tifton Campus. The two student workers work for vegetable horticulturist Tim Coolong. Download Image
Watermelon workers
Watermelon workers

Robert Ames, right, records the weig 008B ht of a watermelon as fellow student worker Beau Lamb watches. Both work for UGA Vegetable Horticulturist Tim Coolong on the Tifton Campus. 33D6

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