Tough time for the watermelon farmers

Local | Lauren Lau 4 Jul 2019

Three new varieties of watermelon will debut at the Local Organic Watermelon Festival, despite a significantly underwhelming harvest this year.

Organized by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, local farmers will be selling organic watermelons and other seasonal farm produce at the festival throughout July at the Tai Po Farmers' Market.

The three new types of watermelon are the Hami Yellow Flesh that originates from Japan, the Super Sweet Black Angel 168 from Australia and Diana from Taiwan.

The watermelons are smaller, and suitable to feed families in Hong Kong. Hami has a yellow skin, while the other two are red.

"This year's harvest is significantly less than the year before," said Chen Yi-min, an agricultural officer at the department. "A drop of at least 70 percent is expected. Climate change has caused the rain season to extend, and there are constant showers throughout the summer season, causing the watermelon harvest to be inferior."

There has been a lack of sunlight and high humidity this year, which has caused watermelons to be less sweet and smaller.

It has also led to a higher water content in watermelons, which makes them burst.

The humidity is also a factor for bacterial infection in plants and mold can grow a lot easier as a result.

"I have lost at least half of what was expected of my watermelons this year due to the typhoon last summer," said farmer Chan Chi-cheung. "It shattered my canopies and it forced me to shut down parts of my plant production."

Despite applying for government subsidies for farmers, it can't cover the expenses needed for repairs, which was why he decided not to go ahead with it as he fears there will be stronger typhoons this summer.

"The subsidies would only cover a third of what I need. I would have to pay HK$60,000 on top of that in order to fix the canopies that cover 5,000 square feet of my farm," Chan said.

Usually by the end of the harvest season, he would have 1,000 fully grown watermelons ready to be sold. However, this year, he expects to have only about 600.

"Even though my harvest is not as good as it was before, I love watermelons, that's why I kept them on my farm this year. Many of my close customers have already ordered watermelons from me. The combined number of their orders has reached 200 watermelons and they will be HK$45 per pound," he said.

"Although it is hard to sustain local organic farming, it is important that it remains in society as a means to educate people on the advantages of organic foods and planting. It also serves as an occupational opportunity for people," Chan said.

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