Florida Temperature, Humidity Ideal for Watermelon
by ERIKA ALDRICH
Sponsored by Farm Credit of Central Florida
Few things say “summer” like fresh, juicy watermelon! Luckily for Florida residents, no one grows tastier watermelons than the Sunshine State! Florida is a leading producer of watermelons, and you can find them at your grocery store, at roadside stands, and farmer’s markets. Explore watermelon production in Florida to get the lowdown on summer’s favorite fruit.
History of Watermelon
Watermelon is believed to have been originally cultivated in Africa, with watermelon seeds being found in the tombs of pharaohs in Egypt and other ancient African sites. A member of the cucurbit family, watermelon is related to pumpkin, cucumber, zucchini, squash, and other melons.
European colonists brought the seeds to North America, and it is thought that both Spanish settlers and Native Americans were growing watermelons in Florida as far back as the late 1500s. Watermelon needs warm temperatures and can tolerate high humidity, making it a perfect crop for Florida.
Watermelon Production in Florida
Florida ranks at the top for watermelon production in the country. While our state harvests watermelon year-round, we are the only watermelon supplier for the rest of the country from December to April, according to UF/IFAS Extension. Watermelons are grown all over the state, but the leading region for production is in the North-Central region of the state—namely Suwannee, Gilchrist, Alachua, Lake, Levy, Marion and Sumter Counties. Other areas that see significant production include the west-central region, the southwest region, and the northwest region. The 2017 USDA Census of Agriculture ranked Levy County as having the largest watermelon acreage in the state, and Gilchrist County as having the second largest acreage of watermelon; the two counties combined produce more than 20 percent of Florida’s watermelon crop.
Florida watermelons make their way into the far reaches of the country. Central Florida’s Mack Farm has a watermelon division, McMelon, that grows watermelons near year-round and ships their crop as far away as Delaware and Maryland.
The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) maintains that Florida was ranked second in watermelon production in 2018, growing 24.5 percent of the nation’s watermelon and garnering $160.8 million in cash receipts for that harvest year. In 2019, The Sunshine State ranked first in the nation for watermelon production, growing 29 percent of the nation’s total value for watermelon, a value of $162 million.
In 2020, Florida produced 8,568,000 CWT of watermelon on over 25,000 acres. Watermelon growers averaged 340 CWT per acre for a value in production dollars of $157.4 million, according to the USDA’s NASS 2020 State Agriculture Overview for Florida.
Watermelon consumption is on the rise, with the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (AgMRC) maintaining that the annual per capita consumption of watermelon for the country reached about 19 pounds per person in 2017. Similarly, production acreage has increased for growing watermelons in Florida. In 2015, UF/IFAS Extension listed Florida growers as harvesting 21,000 acres of watermelon, and the USDA’s NASS calculated 2020’s harvested acres at 25,200 acres. The highest acreage for watermelon production in the last 15 years or so was in 2008 where Florida growers harvested 26,100 acres of watermelon.
Choosing the Perfect Watermelon
Watermelons retain their freshness after harvesting for about three to four weeks. According to Watermelon.org, the marketing arm of The Florida Watermelon Association, you should look for a few things when buying a watermelon. First, look for a watermelon that is firm, symmetrical, and free from bruises, dents, or cuts. Next, make sure the watermelon has heft; 92 percent of a watermelon is water, so it should be heavy! Last, look for a creamy, yellow spot on the watermelon’s underside; this is called the “ground spot,” and it’s proof the watermelon ripened in the sun to perfection.
Always make sure to wash a watermelon before cutting into it, whether you’re putting it in a fruit salad, using it as an ingredient in a recipe, or eating it fresh off the rind!