Project Leader: Arkansas Valley Growers, Michael Hirakata, Hirakata Farms, Rocky Ford, CO
Technical Advisor: Michael Bartolo, Arkansas Valley Research Center, Rocky Ford, CO
Project Year: 2004
The objective of this project is to test the feasibility of growing cantaloupe with plastic row covers to increase the growing season in the Rocky Ford area. Rocky Ford cantaloupes demand a premium price, but are not produced as long as many other melon growing regions in the United States. Many buyers have voiced that they would pay more for Rocky Ford cantaloupes if they were produced earlier.
The cantaloupes will be direct-seeded into black and clear plastic mulch in early to mid-April. Twenty acres will be planted, ten will be covered with row covers, ten will not. The primary type of row cover being used will be a perforated row cover, but there will also be testing with a slitted plastic and a floating fabric cover. The results will be determined by how much earlier the crop is produced, the yield, market price, and the overall cost of production.
The melons were planted on April 12 th and the row covers, which required a fairly large crew of workers, were put down on the 15 th . Many wind storms hit the area and the row covers held up until the wind reached fifty miles per hour, but all of the row covers were salvageable. The season was much wetter than usual. Rocky Ford received four inches of rain in April, compared to the average of 1.3 inches. This made it difficult for melons, but the melons did start growing rapidly. The row covers were taken off in mid-May and the plants were just starting to set small melons. June 20th brought on one of the worst hail storms to hit the area. The melons were severely injured. The melons never recovered, so production was very low. On average, the yield was less than 300 boxes per acre.
Row covers have a big potential to accelerate the earliness of the crop, but may be better suited for a crop that can be direct-marketed at a farmer’s market or a road-side stand, since the grower gets about twice the amount they would get selling them wholesale. The higher price would also make the risks better to handle.