Using plant breeding, cultivar evaluation, and cultivation strategies to address challenges in sustainable watermelon production
Stone, Suzanne Pickard
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Organic watermelon [Citrullus lanatus (Thunb.) Matsum. & Nakai] constitutes 1% of the $450 million watermelon market in the U.S. Although most U.S. conventional watermelon is produced in the Southern region, only one-fourth of the nation’s organic watermelon is grown here. Organic production is difficult in the humid, subtropical climate because of intense disease and weed pressure. A breeding program to develop watermelon cultivars specifically suited for organic production, that addresses challenges including field space, organic weed control, and repetitive harvests, was initiated. Because weed control is the most expensive aspect of organic watermelon production, a study to determine an optimal hand-weeding regime, estimate labor costs, and evaluate the compact trait for improved weeding efficiency was conducted. In addition, a characterization of the diversity of open-pollinated watermelon cultivars popular in organic and direct market production was used to better inform growers, seed savers, breeders and the commercial seed industry about cultivar maintenance and conservation of genetic diversity.