2017 Field Evaluation of Specialty Cantaloupe and Charentais Melon Varieties

While Indiana remains a key player in the domestic cantaloupe market, commercial field production is limited to a few counties. The total acreage planted in Indiana peaked in 1997 at 3,600 acres with a total production of 455,000 cwt and an average income of $16 per cwt (USDA ESMIS, 2015). Indiana cantaloupe growers have lost a significant share of the melon market since the 2011 and 2012 food borne illness outbreaks. Compared to 2011, the acreage planted and production in 2016 decreased by 900 acres (33%) and 257,000 cwt (45%), respectively. At $23 per cwt the 2016 farm value of production was $7,245 million, $35,000 lower than in 1997. Increased competition from neighboring states, the higher production risk due to food safety related issues, the limited selection of melon types and technologies that can be used to increase production and product quality has led to this tremendous decrease in planted acreage over the past two decades. The decrease in acreage and market share, and the associated risk of food borne illness is a threat to the long-term sustainability of the cantaloupe industry in Indiana.

One way to increase the planted acreage, farm productivity and profit margins for Indiana melon growers is to plant a more diverse selection of melon varieties. Personalized or specialty melons have become very popular. Traditional cantaloupe varieties produced in Indiana can weight up to 8 lb. per fruit. This variety evaluation focused on the production of cantaloupes and Charentais that yield fruit between 2 and 4 lb. For those that do not know what a Charentais is, it’s a type of cantaloupe melon, Cucumis melo var. cantalupensis. It is a small variety of melon, similar in flesh to cantaloupes, but with a more fragrant smell.

Quick Facts about Indiana Cantaloupe

  • Transplant Production: March/April
  • Planting Season: April – June
  • Harvest Season: June – Sept.
  • Plant Population (2.5 ft. x 6 ft.): 2,904 plants per acre
  • Average price per melon: $0.70 – $1.10

Table 1: Value Summary of Indiana Cantaloupe Industry

Year Acres Planted Yield per Acre (cwt) Production (cwt) Price per Unit ($/cwt) Value of Production ($) Value of Production ($/Acre)
2013 2100 230 460,000 25.00 11,500,000 5,476
2014 1900 220 396,000 15.10 5,980,000 3,147
2015 1800 160 272,000 28.00 7,616,000 4,231
2016 1800 185 315,000 23.00 7,245,000 4,255

*Sources:

– USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service, 2017.  https://www.nass.usda.gov/Quick_Stats/Ag_Overview/stateOverview.php?state=INDIANA, Accessed on October 23, 2017.

– Melon Production in Southwestern Indiana. Scott Monroe, Food Safety Educator, Purdue Extension

– Vegetables. 2015 Summary. USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service. February 2016

During the summer of 2017, production studies were initiated at the Meigs Horticulture Facility located at the Throckmorton Purdue Ag Center (TPAC), Lafayette. Varieties tested included three cantaloupe, four Charentais, and one Ananas x Charentais cultivar (Table 2). Conventional production practices were followed. The trial was planted on June 12, 2017. Harvesting commenced on August 7, 2017 (56 days after planting), and continued until August 28, 2017 (77 days after planting). Melons were harvested twice per week.

Figure 1: Field study at Meigs Horticulture Facility

Figure 1: Field study at Meigs Horticulture Facility

Table 2: Varieties tested in a field study at the Meigs Horticulture Facility

Variety Name Type Days to Maturity
Lilliput Cantaloupe 80
Inspire Cantaloupe 65
Sugar Cube Cantaloupe 80
French Orange French Charentais 75
Tasty Bites Ananas x Charentais 80
Escorial French Charentais 72
Savor French Charentais 78
Artemis French Charentais 78

Variety performance was impacted by disease and insect pressure. The main diseases were bacterial wilt (transferred by cucumber beetles) and powdery mildew. Bacterial wilt affected about 27% of all the plants in this study. Some varieties had plant casualties of up to 50% (French Orange, Escorial) of the original population. Least affected by bacterial wilt was Lilliput (14%). Most varieties had plant casualties of between 19% and 22%. Powdery mildew affected most varieties except Lilliput and Sugar Cubes. Savor was the most affected by powdery mildew and as a result produced a much lower yield. A low incidence of powdery mildew was observed on all other varieties (3% to 10%).

Lilliput, Inspire, Sugar Cubes, and Tasty Bites produced the highest number of fruit per acre. However, Lilliput, Inspire, Sugar Cubes, Tasty Bites, Escorial and Artemis produced the best yields (Table 3). All varieties met the fruit size criteria set out at the onset of the study.

Lilliput and Sugar Cubes produced the smallest perfectly round fruit followed by French Orange, Savor and Artemis (Table 4). Lilliput and Sugar Cubes also had the smallest seed cavity. Escorial produced fruit with the highest total soluble solids content (14.1 °Brix) followed by Artemis (13.9 °Brix). Most varieties produced fruit with a total soluble solids content higher than 12 °Brix, except Inspire (10.6 °Brix). Fruit of French Orange, Escorial, Savor and Artemis tend to crack at the blossom end. However, the worst effected variety was Savor (soft and thin-skinned variety).

Table 3: Yield data

Variety Name Fruit per plant Fruit Weight (lb) Fruit Number per Acre Weight (lb) per acre
Lilliput 5.1 2.2 14,668 34,150
Inspire 4.9 3.1 14,288 43,030
Sugar Cube 6.3 2.2 18,307 43,345
French Orange 4.0 2.6 11,580 30,113
Tasty Bites 5.5 2.9 16,084 45,424
Escorial 3.8 3.3 11,098 35,664
Savor 1.6 2.6 4,680 12,467
Artemis 4.3 2.6 12,581 34,322

 

Table 4: Fruit quality

Variety Name Fruit Seed Cavity Total Soluble Solids (°Brix)
Fruit Length (inches) Fruit Width (inches) Length (inches) Width (inches)
Lilliput 4.9 4.9 2.9 2.3 13.3
Inspire 5.9 5.4 3.9 2.4 10.6
Sugar Cube 5.1 4.8 3.1 2.1 13.3
French Orange 5.1 5.0 3.3 2.3 13.4
Tasty Bites 5.8 5.1 3.6 2.4 12.4
Escorial 5.6 5.6 3.5 2.5 14.1
Savor 5.1 5.3 3.3 2.4 12.6
Artemis 5.3 5.2 3.5 2.3 13.9

In conclusion, varieties with none to very little defects and production issues include Lilliput and Sugar Cubes. Escorial and Artemis produced very sweet fruit, but had issues with fruit cracking. Adjusting production practices might help to minimize fruit cracking in these two varieties. From initial results, these four varieties seem to have the most potential.

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