July in Korea is the time of extreme summer heat. With the rise of outside temperatures, the sales of food products that can help beat the heat also increase.
|With its abundant water content and sweetness, watermelon is the best fruit to overcome heat and thirst. In Korea, watermelons are harvested from May to August in Buyeo and Nonsan counties of South Chungcheong Province and Jeongeup of North Jeolla Province. Local farmers make great effort to produce high-quality fruit by improving cultivated varieties and using top-notch sorters and packaging lines. As a reflection of their efforts, the export volume is consistently growing. One of the improved varieties is watermelon without seeds, which makes it very easy to eat the fruit.
A Luxurious Watermelon Produced by Experts
The seedless watermelon is produced by cultivating the fruit so it does not develop seeds during the growing stage. The convenience of having no need to remove seeds when eating has made seedless watermelons very popular. An increasing number of Korean farmers produce and export the variety overseas. One of the exporters is Jeongeup Watermelon Research and Farming Association located in Jeongeup.
The association was established in 2003 by 75 farms for the purpose of growing and distributing high quality watermelons. From the very beginning, it focused on the production of seedless watermelons. Association President Lee Seok-byeon said, “At that time, the watermelon production nationwide was increasing due to improvements in cultivation technology, and we thought it was difficult to attract the consumer with a common watermelon. We analyzed the consumer trends and decided to grow seedless watermelons, which are not only sweet but also convenient to eat.”
In the early stages, however, the association was unable to produce watermelons of exportable quality. No system was in place to grow seedless watermelons, and the fruits were often damaged or spoiled during cultivation. Moreover, even those watermelons that reached the harvesting stage were hard to sell on the market because their rinds were too thick and the sweetness too low. The association developed a cultivation technique and bioagent for seedless watermelons and managed to stabilize production. Lee’s efforts were recognized when he was selected as a “master in agricultural technology” (in the vegetable category) by KOPIA (Korea Program on International Agriculture) in 2011.
Surpassing Its Rival, South American Watermelon, in Japan…An Increase in Inquiries and Export Volume
The association started exports in earnest from 2014. KOPIA helped organize a trial shipment to Japan and the association’s seedless watermelons received positive evaluations, opening the door to regular exports. The key to the success lay in quality. The watermelons were not only easy to eat but they also had thin rinds and high sugar content (13°Bx on average). Lee recalls, “The watermelons from South America sold in Japanese stores were not sweet and had a higher price tag due to the logistics costs. The advantage of geographic proximity, which made the price for Korean watermelons more affordable, along with the freshness and sweetness of our fruits won the hearts of local buyers.”
The export volume has increased from 10 tons in 2014 to 17 tons in 2015 then to a whopping 160 tons in 2016. Lee notes, “When we first exported our products in 2014, buyers checked every detail, from sugar content to the shape of watermelons. Now they simply ask us to ship, saying that they have no doubts in the quality.”
Jeongeup Watermelon Research and Farming Association is getting ready to expand the export markets to Hong Kong and Russia. As part of its efforts to increase the volume of watermelons produced for export, the association installed a three-stage gear to automatically open and close greenhouses earlier this year.
Highly sensitive to weather, seedless watermelons do not bear fruit unless the temperature is appropriate, and even when the fruit does form, it tends to develop a thick rind. Lee reveals his aspirations: “Capitalizing on advantages of the Korean seedless watermelon—its sweetness and crispiness—we want to lead the exploration of foreign markets for the fruit.”
Additional Info: Seedless Watermelon Is Not Genetically Modified!
Many consumers think that the seedless watermelon is genetically modified. That is not true. They are produced using a special pollen that prevents the occurrence of seeds in natural varieties. You can trust the quality of Korean seedless watermelons!
Jeongeup Watermelon Research and Farming Association
Tel: +63-531-8393 (President, Lee Seok-byeon +82-10-2610-8393)
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