BLACKVILLE — Watermelon growers could earn about $1,500 more per acre with timely fungicide applications, according to Clemson University Extension specialist Anthony Keinath.

And if they apply pesticides in the evening, they’re less likely to disturb bees, important pollinators for fruit and vegetable production, said Extension bee specialist Jennifer Tsuruda.

These are among the many lessons shared at the Watermelon and Vegetable Field Day at Clemson University’s Edisto Research and Education Center (REC) in Blackville last week. Attendees from North Carolina and Georgia joined their South Carolina peers to learn the latest Clemson research on watermelons and vegetables. More than 300 people attended the event organized by Clemson University Extension horticulturist Gilbert Miller. Guests included Clemson University President James P. Clements, S.C. Agriculture Commissioner Hugh Weathers and S.C. Farm Bureau President David Winkles.

Weathers and Winkles credited Clemson for collaborating on programs that make farms more profitable, training the next generation of farmers and helping growers become successful business managers.

“It’s one thing to get a crop out of the ground. It’s another thing to market that product and manage a successful business,” Weathers said, crediting Clemson’s expansion of agribusiness programs that provide entrepreneurial training.

Clemson University President James Clements (right) poses for a photo at the Watermelon Field Day with Extension Horticulturalist Gilbert Miller.

Clemson University President James P. Clements (right) poses for a photo at the Watermelon Field Day with Extension horticulturalist Gilbert Miller.
Image Credit: Clemson University

Clements said the research conducted at the university’s five agricultural research stations is focused on improving the businesses and lives of farmers. Among the projects Clements cited is Miller’s work on irrigation technology the helped a South Carolina peach producer reduce water usage 60 percent, or by 360 million gallons, for a cost savings of $500,000.

“We’re all about making a difference. That’s why the university was created,” Clements said.

At the Edisto REC, research sensor engineer Joe Maja is developing technologies that can be used on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to quickly collect a wide range of field data to help farmers improve crop health and soil quality and eradicate pests and disease. Maja demonstrated the UAV to Field Day attendees. His work is part of the Edisto REC’s precision agriculture program. It aims to reduce waste and optimize the use of farm equipment and materials by incorporating technologies to target the amount and locations of water, fertilizer and chemical applications to the specific areas of a field where they are needed.

Attendees at the Watermelon Field Day view a demonstration of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle used in Clemson's precision-agriculture research.

Attendees at the Watermelon Field Day view a demonstration of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle used in Clemson’s precision-agriculture research.
Image Credit: Clemson University

Clemson University researchers also are grafting watermelon plants with disease-resistant rootstocks to the fruit-producing top of others. The plants can improve yields by making plants more resistant to disease, insects and drought.

Scientist Richard Hassell told Field Day attendees Clemson has developed a process to eliminate regrowth, in which the rootstock produces its own offshoot that would cause the desired top to wither. Until now, that was a roadblock to the use of grafted watermelons.

Keinath has conducted research to help growers with cost-effective fungicide applications. Field trials he conducted showed that growers could increase the marketable weight of seedless watermelons by an average 75 percent by using fungicide treatments. Based on his calculations, the increased yields would equate to an average earnings gain of around $1,500 per acre, more than offsetting fungicide costs of up to $400 per acre. Step-by-step instructions for fungicide applications are available in the 2015 Watermelon Field Guide released by Miller and Keinath.

Attendees sampled different watermelon varieties and took melons home after the event.

Attendees sampled different watermelon varieties and took melons home after the event.
Image Credit: Clemson University

Attendees of the field day also learned tips to attract and care for pollinators, such as honeybees, and to deal with pests that can damage fruit and vegetable crops. They were also able to taste dozen of watermelon varieties grown at the Edisto REC.

Miller has organized the Watermelon Field Day for nearly 15 years. He said the 2016 Watermelon Field Day is tentatively scheduled for July 7.

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