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Hirakata Farms reduces acreage for drought mitigation

As a means to cope with water shortages in Colorado’s Lower Arkansas Valley, Hirakata Farms in Rocky Ford will cut back its melon acreage this season, according to sales rep Gene Schneider.

“There’s a drought situation in the Arkansas Valley,” Schneider said. “Last year we suffered from it as well.”

He noted that water officials have told growers to plan on a 40 percent reduction in surface water.

“That means we have to cut back on acreage in most of our crops,” he said.

Schneider said in mid-April the 2018 planting, which began in late April, would see cantaloupe and seedless watermelon acres each down by 10 percent. Honeydew is down by 30 percent, he said. Acreage for the operation’s mini watermelons, which have proven to be a favorite with consumers, will remain the same.

“We know if we don’t plant and perfect the mini watermelons, we’re losing out on an important market segment,” he said. “We can grow a really tasty mini — a very flavorful watermelon — and we’re pretty happy about that,” he said.

Staggered seeded field plantings began the third week of April, and transplants were scheduled to start early May. Schneider said the majority of product comes from transplants, and 90 percent of the operation’s organic volume is from transplants.

The planting is planned for orderly harvests, with cantaloupe traditionally coming off July 17 and running through Sept. 21. Honeydew come off Aug. 1 and run through Sept. 14; watermelon, both mini and full sized, come off Aug. 3 and run through Oct. 1; and pumpkins for pie and carving come off Aug. 25 and run through the third week of October.

“We tried three varieties of cantaloupe to find one with an extended shelf life, but this year we’re coming back to the Athena, which is very soft and flavorful. We feel it has a better eating quality, and we want to stay with the items we’re known for,” Schneider said.

Schneider, a longtime Colorado produce salesman, is now in his third season with Hirakata. He works chain accounts as well as wholesale, and he said a good portion of Hirakata’s product remains in the Centennial State. Pumpkins are the exception, with approximately 40 percent shipped out of state.