Indiana produce unlikely ready for July 4 holiday celebrations

June 28, 2011

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — After months of wet weather, Purdue Extension experts say melons, sweet corn and other Indiana-grown produce may not be ready for Independence Day barbecues.

Sweet corn usually can be harvested by mid-June, cantaloupes are usually ready by late-June and watermelons mid-July, said Purdue Extension produce specialist Dan Egel. But this year's heavy rains and cool spring weather delayed crops anywhere from 10 days to two weeks.

"I haven't heard of any farmers harvesting sweet corn yet, which is very unusual," Egel said. "The temperature the next few weeks will be important, but consumers looking for locally grown products will probably have to wait until later in July."

Despite the expected delay in harvest, he said yields should remain around the state's per-acre averages of 45,000 pounds for watermelon, 17,000 pounds for cantaloupe and 9,200 pounds for sweet corn.

Egel said the weather would not diminish produce quality.

"There was also some scattered hail damage to the melon crop, but even though the plants were tattered, there should be no lasting damage," he said. "Between late planting and slow growth, the plants didn't have any fruit yet, so we expect the same high-quality melons from southwestern Indiana."

Indiana is the nation's fifth-largest producer of cantaloupes and watermelons, Greg Preston of the USDA's National Ag Statistics Service said. Farmers in Knox County near Vincennes grow nearly two-thirds of Indiana's 39.1 million pounds of cantaloupes, or muskmelons, and 284 million pounds of watermelon.

There are more types of melons than watermelons and cantaloupes, though, and if consumers are interested in trying new varieties, Purdue Extension produce specialist Liz Maynard recommended going to a local farmers market or farm stand.

Even though Indiana melons and sweet corn may be hard to find, she said visitors to farm stands and farmers markets may find a variety of Indiana produce for holiday menus, including lettuce and other greens, onions, radishes, garlic, kohlrabi, raspberries, strawberries, beets, peas, squash, and cucumbers and tomatoes from greenhouses.

"Consumers also might see specialty melons and other types of produce," Maynard said. "It's something different, and if the farmers are taking the effort to grow them, it's worth a try."

To select cantaloupes, Maynard said consumers should look to see that the fruit is firm, there is no sign of decay and the stem has fallen off naturally and has not been cut.  She said watermelon ripeness is harder to predict from the outside, but buyers should ensure that there are no bad spots or large cuts on the fruit.

Corn selection should be based on leaves that look fresh and evidence that the corn has been kept cold. Maynard said there is no difference in the tastes of white, bicolor and yellow sweet corn.

There are relatively few acres in Indiana devoted to sweet corn. Unlike sweet corn, the corn that dominates the Indiana landscape in summer and fall is processed for human consumption other than corn on the cob, used as animal feed or turned into biofuels – among other uses.

In 2010, Indiana farmers grew 59.8 million pounds of sweet corn, valued at $14.4 million. There were 6,500 acres harvested with high concentrations of fields in southwest and northern Indiana.

"Elkhart and the surrounding northern counties supply the Detroit, Chicago, Toledo and local markets with fresh sweet corn," Preston said.


Writer:  Lisa Schluttenhofer, 765-496-2384, lschlutt@purdue.edu

Sources:  Liz Maynard, 219-531-4200, emaynard@purdue.edu

                  Greg Preston, 765-494-8371, nass-in@nass.usda.gov 

                  Dan Egel, 812-886-0198, egel@purdue.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Keith Robinson, robins89@purdue.edu
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