Sakata's Cory Dombrowski and Seedway's Chuck Elam Talk Triple Crown Watermelons and R&D Programs
- by Jordan Okumura
MORGAN HILL, CA - Sakata is going for the Triple Crown this year, as the company looks to adapt to the changing needs of growers, regions, and consumer flavor profiles. With the Southeast U.S. watermelon season wrapping up, Sakata’s Southeast Area Sales Manager Craig Howell, the company’s Watermelon Assistant Product Manager Cory Dombrowski, as well as Seedway’s Watermelon Product and Market Development Manager Chuck Elam, join me to dish on variety performance and Sakata’s R&D vision.
“This year we featured our Triple Crown Watermelons: Kingman, Unbridled, Secretariat and Charismatic, along with Eclipse, a new sugar baby-type seedless, and Belmont, our dark crimson mini watermelon,” Cory shares with me. “We also released two new pollenizers, Ace Plus and Wild Card Plus. It is an exciting time for the watermelon category.”
When I ask Cory what some of the key attributes of each are, and what performance challenges the team was addressing, he gives me the breakdown.
“These varieties offer a broad range of size, earliness, and rind color to meet customer requirements. For growers who need to hit an early market in challenging weather, Secretariat and Charismatic are good choices. Both are early maturing, mostly 45-count watermelons, with Charismatic having a darker crimson rind pattern than the more traditional crimson Secretariat,” he says. “For an all-around consistent performer, Kingman is hard to beat as a mid-maturity, traditional rind crimson watermelon that is broadly adapted, and has the potential for more 36-count fruit.”
Cory adds that Unbridled is also a larger watermelon that has mid-to-late maturity and the strongest vines of the bunch, can really produce, and has an attractive darker crimson rind. All of Sakata’s Triple Crown watermelons have small pips and an attractive interior, with good flesh firmness, even in the early varieties.
“Now, to get the best performance from a seedless variety, you need to choose the right pollenizer,” Cory notes. “Sakata is widely recognized as having some of the best pollenizers in the industry. Our pollenizers optimize the yield potential of all varieties, especially the early maturing. We began with Ace, which is early flowering, and extended the flowering period with Wild Card. Now we have added additional fusarium and anthracnose resistance to our new era of pollenizers: Ace Plus and Wild Card Plus.”
Craig adds that Charismatic produced above average yields with mostly 45-count and some 36-count fruit in the north Florida region. The shape was oval with good quality interior.
“Charismatic seemed to do better transplanted after the first planting. Kingman produced above average yields with mostly 36-counts and some 45-counts in the Georgia territory. The shape was oval with good quality interior. Secretariat produced above average yields with mostly 45-counts and some 36-count fruit. The shape was oval with quality interior. There were some growers that had grafted Secretariat. These growers have fusarium issues year after year; however, the grafted Secretariat held up well against the disease and produced good yields with good quality fruit. Unbridled produced high yields with mostly 36-count fruit,” Craig says. “There were some 45-counts. It had quality fruit with a mostly round shape. The crop was harvested in three picks. According to growers the round shape did not give them any problem packing or shipping.”
While the season was plagued with heavy rains that caused a significant amount of disease impact, which resulted in a short season, overall, Triple Crown collection performed well given the wet environment.
Chuck, who works with Seedway, one of Sakata’s main watermelon distributors, and a big supporter of these Sakata genetics, shared more on the grower benefits of this collection.
“Kingman really impacts the side of grower friendliness,” Chuck says. “As Kingman goes, we really were looking at just a clean crop of watermelons, almost cookie cutter type, and not much in the way of culls. In the case of Charismatic and Secretariat, both have qualities that would pay off for the grower. This season, both varieties really created large numbers on the farm. Several locations throughout the Florida and Georgia regions reported yields far better than other items on their farms. Both did what we thought and that was the earlier factor and yield.”
Chuck echoes that one thing that made a huge difference in Sakata crops were the addition of the new pollinators Ace Plus and Wild Card Plus. It added so much to the crops, in the way of healthier vines, simply more fruit and a longer harvest window.
“Every farm is different, and so is every season. By working with Sakata’s R&D team, the grower benefits by learning which varieties work best for their particular circumstances,” Cory tells me. “Growers also have the opportunity to preview new varieties before they become commercial, so they are a step ahead when a new variety is released. We are honored with the chance to learn what our customers are looking for, and can tailor our products to meet their needs.”
It sounds like a win-win situation to me, and as Craig shares, doing R&D in each key growing region or slot shows what varieties work well in that region.
“The data we gather from the trials yield information that helps us to guide the growers in the right direction,” he adds.
So, what message would Cory, Craig, and Chuck like to share to share with customers and potential customers? They thought I would never ask
“We want to share what we learn with the industry, and truly appreciate feedback. We are working in collaboration with our dealers and growers to constantly improve grower’s returns, through new variety development, new pollenizers and pollenizer combinations, and testing different rootstock combinations for grafted watermelons,” Cory says, adding that together, they can improve the watermelon industry for everyone.
Craig adds that the team can best match the variety with your planting slots and growing practices and the Sakata team is always willing and available to help.
“I would say to growers, do not get caught up in the fact that there was a lot of large fruit this season,” Chuck reflects. “Yes, we have had two seasons of weather that created large melons, but we should all know that this upcoming year we could have the complete opposite weather cycle. We cannot change the weather and the market is the market, so grow like you grow, and grow like you know. We will be here to help along the way.”
With a program in place that positions growers to succeed, Sakata and Seedway work hand in hand to address the changing and challenging produce landscape–one watermelon at a time.