Revised December, 2018.
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 2016 Vegetable Summary, the latest available summary the value of U.S. cantaloupe production fell from $325 million in 2012 to $261 million in 2015. The value of U.S. honeydew production increased from $69.8 million in 2012 to $80.5 million in 2015.
Demand and Marketing
The average American consumer consumes about 27 pounds of melons each year. The United States is one of the world's leading consumers of melons. Cantaloupe consumption was 8.7 pounds and honeydew was 1.5 pounds in 2011. (ERS 2011). 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 66,350 acres in 2012 to 51,600 acres in 2015. Cantaloupe production was 13.4 million cwt in 2015. In contrast, honeydew was planted on 13,600 acres in 2015 and the production of honeydew was 3.5 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 $23.30 per cwt in 2017. Honeydew prices were $55.30 per cwt in 2017.
- Cantaloupe (production, costs, IPM, postharvest), University of California, Davis.
- Cantaloupe and Honeydew, Fruit and Vegetable Prices, ERS.
- Cantaloupe and Honeydew Melons, Vegetables, National Ag Statistics Service (NASS), USDA - This report, issued five times a year, provides data on melons, including area harvested, prospective area, yield and production for major states.
- 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, 2017.