MUSCATINE, Iowa - A dry growing season knocked out the chance for a bumper crop of sweet corn and melons this year in Muscatine, but area produce growers say they still have plenty to go around.

Fresh sweet corn is already finding its way onto the shelves of produce stands and grocery stores and the melons aren't far behind.

Area producers say customers will notice a small increase in prices.

Sweet corn

George Schmidt, who, with his wife, Mary Ann, owns Schmidt's Market at 5900 Grandview Ave. in Muscatine, said corn sold for $3.50 per dozen ears last year and he's selling it for $4 a dozen this year.

Growers had to do some extra work bringing the crop to buyers this year. Schmidt said his first planting froze out May 5 when the temperature dropped to 25 degrees. Then he, like other area farmers, spent the majority of the growing season dealing with hot, dry days.

Temperatures began hitting the mid to upper 90s June 24 before things cooled a bit to the 80s the first weekend in July. Precipitation is running more than 7 inches behind last year at this time.

Schmidt and his fellow growers use irrigation to compensate for lack of rain and that can also add expense. It isn't the water that costs so much, said Schmidt. He said he pays $25 for a well permit every three years and gets his water from there. But irrigation pumps do run on fuel and they need to be maintained, Schmidt said.

Jan Taylor, who with her husband George, owns Taylor's Market at 2637 Stewart Road in Muscatine, said it costs $1,050 to fill the fuel tank with diesel for her irrigation system and she's filled it twice this year.

"We're dry," she said with a laugh.

Melons extra sweet

Schmidt and other growers said they don't know what the cost of melons will be yet because they won't be selling those for a week or two. The price will likely increase, depending on yield. But, Schmidt said, the price of melons that are shipped into Muscatine from other states will also be a factor.

"We'll want our price to be competitive," said Schmidt.

Last year, Schmidt said local cantaloupe sold for 49 cents a pound or about $1.75-$2.50 per melon. Watermelon sold for 33 cents a pound seeded and 39 cents a pound for seedless, Schmidt said.

Although melons may be a bit more expensive, Schmidt and Pam Krueger, who, with her husband Earl, owns Krueger's market at 1455 231st St. in Letts, said customers may get a little something extra in their melons this year.

Both producers say a dry, hot climate produces a higher sugar content in melons and makes them sweeter.

When do we eat?

In many area homes, the corn is already on the table.

"We started picking corn July 7," said Schmidt.

Krueger said she is selling corn at her market now too.

Taylor's Market, which has another location on U.S. Highway 61 East and Taylor Avenue, began selling corn, zucchini, beans and other vegetables Friday. Taylor said customers can purchase melons that her operation has had shipped in from Georgia.

Terri Bell, an owner of Bell's Melons, 303 Burlington St. in Conesville, said local cantaloupe will probably be ready next weekend and the watermelons will ripen by the last week of July.

Other growers interviewed said this was also the case at their farms.

Contact Cynthia Beaudette at: 563-263-2331 Ext. 323

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