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New Field Guide Aids Florida’s Watermelon Growers

Birdwatchers and nature lovers keep field guides handy—why not watermelon growers? A new publication developed by faculty at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences gives watermelon growers in Florida a visual reference they can take out to the field with them and solve their production problems.

Florida is one of the largest suppliers of watermelon in the U.S., and it’s one of the state’s most important crops, accounting for 22,500 acres of cropland and over $161 million in total value each year. However, commercial watermelon production is vulnerable to climate fluctuations, weather events like frost or hail, plant diseases, nutrient imbalances and pests ranging from microscopic nematodes to feral hogs. Identifying the warning signs on damaged plants and diagnosing their ailments in the field can save a grower from thousands of dollars in losses from reduced yield or unharvestable fruit.

The Watermelon Field Guide is the result of a collaboration between UF/IFAS and the Florida Watermelon Association (FWA). UF/IFAS Extension Alachua County Agent Tatiana Sanchez and Regional Specialized Agent Robert Hochmuth were the lead co-authors for the guide, which uses photographs and descriptions from Extension agents in the Suwannee Valley Agricultural Area.

“There are so many interesting things Extension agents see in a watermelon crop,” said Hochmuth. “We developed this guide to share those images with this great industry to help make every watermelon crop even more successful,” said Hochmuth.

Sanchez said the guide draws on experiences working with Florida growers.  “Years of observation in watermelon fields inspired us to put together our pictures and describe the process, the challenges and the beauty of producing watermelons in Florida,” she said. “The readers can immerse themselves into this crop by following what Extension Agents see during site visits.”

The pocket-sized guide features 140 color photos and descriptions that provide real-life observations on a wide range of subjects, including:

  • Chemical injuries (pesticide and other chemical burns)
  • Diseases (fungal pathogens, viruses, bacterial diseases)
  • Environmental injuries (hail, lightning, irrigation problems)
  • Nutrients (testing, deficiencies, toxicities)
  • Good bugs and bad bugs (beneficial insects, squash bugs, whiteflies, nematodes)
  • Physiological and genetic disorders (leaf curling, hollow heart, oedema)
  • Wildlife (raccoons, birds, feral pigs)

     

The partnership between UF/IFAS and FWA has resulted in an increase in watermelon research projects and educational opportunities at the FWA Annual Conference and other meetings such as the Suwannee Valley Watermelon Institute. Several UF/IFAS Research and Education Centers (RECs) throughout the state host research trials for a wide range of topics important to the watermelon industry in Florida. Over the past four years, 17 major watermelon research projects are being conducted at RECs in Homestead, Immokalee, Balm, Live Oak, and Quincy as well as the UF/IFAS Plant Science Research and Education Unit in Citra.

The Watermelon Field Guide is available at the UF/IFAS Extension Bookstore for $20.00

UF/IFAS faculty and FWA members are eligible for discounts.

Visit IFASbooks.com or call 1-800-226-1764 for order information.