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Revised August, 2021.
Melons belong to the cucurbit family, which also includes cucumbers. Cucurbits are thought to have originated in southern Mexico and Central America. Today’s predominant melon varieties include watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew. For more information about watermelon, please see the Watermelon profile.
Historically, cantaloupe production accounts for the greatest share of production value. According to the 2021 Vegetable Summary, the latest available summary the value of U.S. cantaloupe production was $295.73 million in 2020, which is slightly up from $237.7 million in 2019, but significantly down from previous years. The value of U.S. honeydew production decreased from $75.3 million in 2018 to $49.2 million in 2020.
Demand and Marketing
The average American consumer consumes about 24 pounds of melons each year. The United States is one of the world's leading consumers of melons. Cantaloupe consumption was 6.1 pounds and honeydew was 1.4 pounds in 2019. (ERS 2020). Melon consumption has remained high for a variety of reasons, including health consciousness of consumers, improved year-round availability, creative marketing and improved varieties.
Melons are often consumed as desserts, snacks, breakfast foods and picnic foods. Marketing attempts recently have focused on pre-cut product displays, in-store salad bars and other strategies to appeal to the single-serving market and to smaller households. Seedless varieties have also helped spur consumption. In addition, industry improvements in harvesting and handling techniques as well as the introduction of sweeter hybrid varieties have improved quality and reduced the number of poor eating experiences.
The U.S. cantaloupe acreage decreased from 60,700 acres in 2018 to 40,600 acres in 2020. Cantaloupe production was 11.5 million cwt in 2020. In contrast, honeydew was planted on 7,600 acres in 2020 and the production of honeydew was 2.4 million cwt.
In the past, melons were considered “seasonal delights” because of their limited availability throughout the year. However, as production flexibility and imports have increased availability, melons have become available year round and have gained in popularity. Ideal growing conditions for melons include a long, warm frost-free season. Thus, the primary commercial producers of all U.S. melons are found in the southern portion of the country including California, Arizona, Texas, Georgia and Florida. The harvest season for melons lasts from April through December but varies within states.
Prices for all domestically produced melons have shown some variability over the years; however, both cantaloupe and honeydew prices have fallen in recent years. The season-average price for cantaloupe peaked at $26.10 per cwt in 2020. Honeydew prices were $20.90 per cwt in 2020.
- Cantaloupe (production, costs, IPM, postharvest), University of California, Davis.
- Cantaloupe and Honeydew, Fruit and Vegetable Prices, ERS.
- Cantaloupe and Honeydew Melons, NASS.
- Global Agricultural Trade System (GATS), Foreign Ag Service (FAS), USDA.
- U.S. per capita consumption, ERS, USDA, 2012 - This dataset facilitates the creation of custom reports about fruits, melons, and tree nuts.
- Vegetables Annual Summary, NASS, USDA, 2021.