Melon is a crop with diverse fruit characteristics. According to the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants, C. melo is divided into 16 groups within two subspecies: C. melo ssp. melo and C. melo ssp. agrestis (Burger et al., 2010). Sweet melons are mainly in the groups of Cantalupensis, Reticulatus, and Inodorus that are in the subspecies of C. melo ssp. melo, as well as the group of Makuwa that is in the subspecies of C. melo ssp. agrestis (Burger et al., 2010). The most commonly cultivated melon type in the United States is cantaloupe (Reticulatus group) (Sargent and Maynard, 2009). In 2011, 72,690 acres of cantaloupe were planted in the United States with a production value of $350 million [U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 2013]. Besides cantaloupe, other melon types with distinctive fruit attributes are generally referred to as specialty melon in the United States.
Commonly known specialty melon include charentais, galia, ananas, persian, honeydew, casaba, crenshaw, canary, and asian melon. Among them, galia, ananas, and persian melon are in the same Reticulatus group as cantaloupe (Shellie and Lester, 2004). They produce aromatic, climacteric fruit that slip from vines with an identifiable abscission zone during ripening. Other specialty melon such as honeydew, casaba, crenshaw, and canary melon are in the Inodorus group. Fruit in the Inodorus group generally lack aromatic flavor and do not slip from vines when ripening (Lester and Shellie, 2004). Sweet asian melon is primarily in the Makuwa group. Their fruit are oblate, oval, or pyriform shaped, and have white flesh with light aroma (Akashi et al., 2002).
With unique flavor, shape, and color, specialty melon generally command a higher price than ordinary muskmelon (Bachmann, 2002). In addition, demand for specialty melon is increasing in the United States because of the burgeoning ethnic diversity in the population, for whom specialty melon is staple fruit (Walters et al., 2008). The expanding market also reflects consumer preference for healthy, new, unusual produce and cuisines (Greene, 1992).
Despite the increase in their popularity, according to a report by USDA (2009), only 2 acres of honeydew melon were harvested in Florida in 2007, whereas data on other specialty melon types were not provided. The major production barriers are lack of disease resistant cultivars and poor marketable yield (Maynard, 1989). The challenge is more pronounced in Florida as the humid subtropical environmental conditions often result in high levels of disease pressures on melon production (Elmstrom and Maynard, 1992). Moreover, RKN thrive in Florida sandy soils causing root galling and interfering with water and nutrient uptake of melon plants (Zitter et al., 1996). Therefore, specialty melon cultivars with disease resistance or tolerance would be valued by producers and create novel markets.
Breeding for disease resistance is one of the major goals in developing new melon cultivars. Combining high levels of disease resistance with excellent horticultural characteristics, however, is often a challenging task in vegetable breeding (Guan et al., 2012). Damages caused by several soilborne and foliar diseases are still the major problems in melon production. Some specialty melon cultivars released in recent years had resistance to powdery mildew, downy mildew, and certain races of Fusarium oxysporum (Cornell University, 2011). However, limited information is available regarding their performance in Florida. Hence, research under Florida production conditions is needed to evaluate yield, disease performance, and fruit quality of these specialty melon cultivars to provide updated recommendations to Florida growers.
Consumer demand for organic produce and interest in organic production among producers have continued to increase in recent years (USDA, 2010). Although the need for developing cultivars specifically suitable for organic crop production has been recognized (Adam, 2005), limited information is available regarding cultivar selection for organic melon production. While performance of cultivars may differ significantly between organic and conventional systems (Murphy et al., 2007), it is also suggested that conventional cultivars can be conveniently used for selecting cultivars well adapted to organic conditions (Lorenzana and Bernardo, 2008). The objective of this study was to evaluate the performance of different specialty melon cultivars in terms of yield potential, disease resistance, and fruit characteristics. In addition, these cultivars were assessed under both organic and conventional production to determine cultivar response to the different farming systems.
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