Watermelon production in south Georgia begins in early February with land prep and tillage, says Eure. Sometime in February, growers begin to fumigate.

“Immediately after fumigation, they lay plastic mulch in the bed to trap the fumigant in the bed, allowing various pests to be killed. About three weeks later, they go back and make transplant holes in the plastic mulch. Immediately after doing this, they hand-transplant seedlings that have been grown in a greenhouse,” he says.

Beginning in June, farmers hand-harvest watermelons, sometimes doing it one to three times based on market value at the time of maturity.

“Growers often double-crop their watermelons with grain sorghum, and this is a concern because net returns from grain sorghum often are marginal,” says Eure. “Especially when you’re planting in mid-July, you can see a reduction in grain sorghum yields. So they started looking at options, including intercropping watermelons with cotton.

“They like this because the net returns on cotton generally are greater than grain sorghum, and there are shared resources for the two crops – land prep and irrigation already are in place for the watermelons, so cotton is just freeloading. This is setting up growers for increased returns and offering some stability in production. For example, if watermelon markets plummet, they still can offer a decent cotton crop, potentially.”