In the US, a computer prediction model to assess the ripeness of melons when they go to market is fast growing in popularity.
For fruit farmers such as David LaGrange, vice president and farm manager ofStarr Produce Company in Rio Grande City, Texas, assessing the ripeness of up and coming harvest is crucial if the produce is to get to market at the right time. Such people not onlyhave to judge the ripeness of many different cantaloupe varieties, they haveto predict it months before they have even planted the seeds. In the case of LaGrange, he has to sign up buyers' contracts far ahead of harvest. And such buyers have to be very exacting as to when they receive their orders.
A proven way for farmers such as LaGrange to make accurate predictions is with the help ofa computer prediction model called MelonMan. Jeff Baker, originally with Texas A&M University and now a plant physiologist with the AgriculturalResearch Service in Beltsville, Maryland, developed the model.
MelonMan predicts the development of melons based on scientific knowledge of how melons grow. For each new variety, LaGrange initially records simplemeasurements such as the rate at which the cantaloupe vine grows new leaf nodes in his soils. After that, all the model needs to know is the weather, and field weather stations provide that.
In 1998, LaGrange grew up to 12 different kinds of cantaloupes, each with their own harvest dates. That was when he really appreciated having help predicting those dates.
He used MelonMan to narrow his numerous varieties down to the three most predictable ones. With these cantaloupes and one honeydew variety, he no longer has to use the computer model regularly - but he made his operation much more profitable with its help, and the equipment is ready whenever he wants to add another variety.
More information on the research appears in the November 2002 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.