"MelonMan" Gets Ripe Melons to Market
By Don Comis
November 26, 2002
If you think sniffing a few
cantaloupes to judge ripeness is a pain, try judging the ripeness of thousands
That's what people like David LaGrange, vice president and farm manager of
Starr Produce Company in Rio Grande
City, Texas, have to do. They not only have to judge the ripeness of many
different cantaloupe varieties, they have to predict it months before they've
even planted the seeds. LaGrange signs buyer contracts far ahead of harvest.
The only way LaGrange and others can predict accurately is with the help of
a computer prediction model called MelonMan. Jeff Baker, originally with
Texas A&M University and now a plant
physiologist with the Agricultural Research Service in Beltsville, Md.,
developed the model.
MelonMan predicts the development of melons based on scientific knowledge of
how melons grow. For each new variety, LaGrange initially records simple
measurements 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 he has it ready whenever he wants to add another
So the next time you get irritated sniffing melons, just think about all the
hassles people like LaGrange have to go through to get that deliciously ripe
melon to your plate, even with MelonMan's help.
More information on the research appears in the
November 2002 issue
of Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.