DENVER CITY — West Texas growers need to capitalize on their reputation for quality watermelons by borrowing a page from the playbook of cantaloupe producers in Pecos and growers of speciality crops in California and Florida, area melon producers were told during a day-long production short course here.
A regional marketing program, developing product identity through brand names or trademarks, and adding value to the melons will help growers build long-term demand for their crop and increase their profitability, said speakers at the short course.
State Rep. Gary Walker of Plains, who reported on water rights issues facing the legislature and agricultural producers, told the growers that West Texas melons he has taken to colleagues in the state capital have been well received.
“We all are familiar with Pecos cantaloupes,” Walker said. “People in Austin look at our area for watermelons” of such consistently high quality.
Profitably marketing what they produce “is one situation where you’ll have to save yourself,” said Dr. Charles Hall, economist and horticultural marketing specialist with the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, College Station. “We really need to look at a coordinated marketing strategy.”
Many marketing challenges can be overcome, Hall said, “by viewing each other as partners rather than competitors.” By coordinated marketing, he said, growers can meet quantity demands of buyers and influence in legal ways the price paid to growers.
“If you ask supermarket produce buyers what is important to them, they’ll tell you quality, a product recognizable by the consumer and one that has a distinct quality” which sets it apart from others of its kind, Hall said.
“You just heard from Rep. Walker about the perception of people across the state” about the quality of West Texas melons, he said. “Why not capitalize on that?”
Growers must pay attention to consumer demands and their response to products, said Hall and Dr. Frank Dainello, Extension Service horticulturist and vegetable specialist from College Station. Consumers want a 10-12-pound melon, not a 35-pound melon, Hall said
“We’ve got to identify niche markets,” Dainello stressed. “One of the really big emerging markets is the food service industry. We’re missing opportunities there.”
Adding value to the melon might include providing two or three small, dessert size melons in a bit of netting as a pack of melons’, or offering the product in a different form, such as melon balls or salad chunks, they said.
Ann Hartman of Denver City, recently named by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to represent areas of Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana on the National Watermelon Promotion Board, explained that group’s research, promotional and educational activities to help growers and handlers.
“Yoakum and the surrounding counties have a tremendous future in watermelon production,” Hartman said. “All we need to do is band together.”
She noted that 26 growers in Yoakum County produced some 16 million pounds of melons last year. County Extension Agent Tadd Knight said that represented $2 million to $3 million in gross receipts for the county.
Other speakers at the short course, co-sponsored by the watermelon board and the Yoakum County office of the Extension Service, focused on specific aspects of melon production.