- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 28, 2006

CORDELE, Ga.

Thanks to weeks of dry, sunny weather, Georgia farmers have produced one of the sweetest watermelon crops in memory, just in time for the nation’s 230th birthday celebration, when watermelon consumption will soar like the rockets at a fireworks show.

Because of the timing of Georgia’s harvest, the state is a major East Coast supplier of the watermelons that Americans traditionally chill and slice at holiday picnics.

While consumers may appreciate the sweeter-than-usual taste, growers are savoring strong demand and favorable prices.

Farmers have had to settle for as little as 3 cents per pound some years, but prices this season are ranging from 7 to 9 cents, said Bill Dorough, manager of the State Farmers Market in Cordele, a major shipping point for Georgia watermelons and cantaloupes.

“The crop is 100 percent better than last year,” said Mr. Dorough, who has worked with melons since the 1970s. “It’s as good as I’ve ever tasted.”

About one-quarter of Georgia’s $42 million watermelon crop is shipped from the Cordele market.

Farmers arrive at the market all hours of the day or night with pickup trucks and wagons brimming with watermelons, while large refrigerated trucks roll out and head north on Interstate 75 with their perishable cargos.

Workers toss melons for hours in the 90-degree heat, transferring them to 18-wheelers that will rush them to supermarkets in Chicago, New York, Washington and other cities to the north.

J.O. Turner, the assistant manager of the Piggly Wiggly supermarket in Butler, has been a Cordele buyer for 25 years.

“They’re the best I’ve ever seen,” Mr. Turner said as workers loaded his pickup truck. “They’re sweeter than I’ve ever tasted. I guess the dry weather has helped.”

Warm, sunny weather increases the sugar content in watermelons.

Cordele, located about 150 miles south of Atlanta, bills itself as the Watermelon Capital of the World and hosts an annual festival, which began June 10 and runs through July 9, to honor the crop. The festivities include watermelon-eating and seed-spitting contests.

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