Florida’s Climate Is Perfect for Growing Watermelon
Sponsored by Farm Credit of Central Florida
by ERIKA ALDRICH
Watermelon is a perennial summer favorite, and a big majority of the nation’s watermelon is grown in The Sunshine State. With Florida’s tropical weather and daily sunshine, watermelon is harvested throughout the year, though the highest production windows in Florida are from April through July, followed by a second wave in September and October. Watermelons love the heat and humidity! Explore the statistics and economic contributions this summer favorite makes to the Florida ag industry.
Watermelons and Florida
It’s no wonder that watermelon is a favorite staple during the summer in homes across the country. It’s sweet, flavorful, and packed with vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, lycopene, and antioxidants. Watermelon’s name is derived from its high water content, which is about 92%.
Watermelons are grown throughout The Sunshine State, though the areas with the highest production areas are in the north and north-central regions of the state, such as Suwannee, Gilchrist, Alachua, Lake, Levy, Marion, and Sumter Counties. Seedless watermelons are the most common variety of watermelon grown in Florida, though other varieties—like seeded watermelons and small “icebox” watermelons—can be found growing in Florida as well.
In 2015, Florida was first in the nation in watermelon production, growing 16.8% of the country’s watermelons, according to UF/IFAS’s Electronic Data Information Source (EDIS). Texas, Georgia, and California are the three other states that, along with Florida, grow the majority of the watermelons sold in the country. Watermelon consumption is on the rise; the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (AgMRC) maintains that the U.S. annual per capita consumption of watermelon in 2017 was about 16.1 pounds per person!
Florida’s watermelon production statistics show a trend of growth that follows an increasing consumer demand for watermelon. In 2010, UF/IFAS’ EDIS ranked watermelons as Florida’s seventh highest vegetable crop in terms of value; and, per FDACS, in 2017, watermelon was sixth in terms of production value for The Sunshine State among vegetable, melon, and berry products.
Florida’s growing acres, production values, and harvest totals have been growing, too. In 2015, UF/IFAS’ EDIS recorded that Florida had 21,500 acres of watermelon growing, ending the harvest year with a total production of 658.5 million pounds. In the 2017 harvest year, Florida’s watermelon production value was $136 million. For 2019, the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), maintained that Florida had 25,500 acres dedicated to growing watermelons. A total of 906.5 million pounds of watermelon was harvested in 2019, for a production value of $161,539,000.
Choosing a Perfect Watermelon
Watermelons are picked at the peak of ripeness, and they will not ripen after picking. Since you can’t really know how ripe a watermelon is until you cut it open, there are a few things to look for when buying a watermelon at the grocery store, farmer’s market, or roadside fruit stand.
First, you want a watermelon with some heft to it. Since a watermelon is mostly water, the heavier the melon, the more water it has inside. Without enough water, the inside fruit of a watermelon can be dry and not as juicy as delectable as it should be. Second, a ripe watermelon should make a satisfying hollow sound when you tap on it. Lastly, inspect the spot on the watermelon where it rested on the ground while it was growing; this should be yellow in color; if it’s white, the watermelon is not ripe!