The country’s top producer of seedless watermelons, Habata Agri, will see a decade having passed next year since they planted their first crop of the highly popular summer fruit.
Heading into the festive season, this relatively new variety will be available for consumers from December to mid-April.
With a total of 160 hectares under cultivation, Habata operations manager Gary Webb said seedless watermelons had become a vital part of the company’s overall package for the consumer market.
“It is really important as the processors only want seedless because your recovery rate is so much better,” he said. “Without the seedless we would not have a watermelon business.”
He added that both the public and retailers had reacted favourably to the fruit.
“We know it is popular because chain stores have told us that the public have inquired about it when not on the shelf.
“We have also had a positive response from retailers, with the only challenge being to differentiate the seedless from the seeded and to get a premium price for it.”
Although primarily a producer of citrus, Habata have developed into one of the country’s dominant companies in the cultivation of melons.
Webb said the seedless watermelon variety added great value to their operation.
“As a variety, it’s in a league of its own and we are only one of two growers in the country who cultivate seedless.”
He said there were no real differences in the cultivation of the two varieties, but said there was a bigger cost involved in producing the seedless watermelon.
“For that reason, it would probably not be viable for your smaller farmer, but we are confident in its future.
“It is the preferred variety throughout the world and I think one must stay in the game and eventually South Africa will follow that trend. Its fruit is always of a high quality.”
The seedless variety was first established in 2000 when it became available in Spain and the United States.
Habata financial director Jurgens Steenkamp said it created pressure on the local market to cultivate a similar variety.
The company underwent a number of extensive trials from 2003 to 2006, he said, before there was enough progress for Habata to begin production in 2007.
“We see this as the future of the watermelon industry,” he said.
“Plants are grafted on pumpkin rootstocks, ensuring stronger root development and making them more disease-resistant to guarantee a healthier plant with a much higher yield potential.”
Steenkamp outlined a higher recovery rate, better shelf life, hardly any pips, flavoursome and crunchy flesh and smaller, more compact fruit as the benefits of the seedless variety.