Moving from green and heavy watermelons, Punjab this summer tried yellow watermelons.
The fruit, however, still remained invisible at the majority of markets as farmers in few pockets grew exotic seeds supplied by a Taiwan company.
For the last three years, the Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, has been working on its own yellow melon variety which will take minimum two years more.
Habitual of heavier, green watermelons, families in Punjab were a bit suspicious initially. Crispy flesh with more juice content finally got the go-ahead.
“Some even understood that watermelons are still unripe with yellow skin but we had to convince them that they are fully ripe,” said Rattan Singh, a fruit retailer.
“Family size is reducing and thus lighter melons are preferred. Yellow colour has also broken green monotony,” he added.
One of the selected farmers in India by Know-You Seed company based in Taiwan, Harpreet Singh Gill from Haripur village said that the company distributed 50 kg seeds this season to farmers in India.
While traditional green melons fetched Rs 2 to 3 per kg at the wholesale market, yellow ones fetched Rs 12 to 13 per kg.
“The variety is called ‘Vishaala’. Although costly at Rs 60,000 per kg, they are profitable,” said Gill.
He practised farming using mulching technique to reduce wastage and control weeds, and PAU scientists too visited his fields.
“People were least interested in buying yellow melons. Then the company hired a team of salesmen in Patiala which went door to door and convinced people to taste once,” he said.
Retailers too earn Rs 25 to 30 per kg as compared to Rs 8 to 10 from green melons.
Prolonged rain earlier damaged watermelon crops and yield was reduced by 40%, which also prompted farmers to try yellow ones, said Lajwinder Singh Brar, director (horticulture), Punjab.
Meanwhile, PAU is targeting economical seeds for farmers.
Dr Rajinder Singh, from department of vegetable sciences, PAU, said, “For two years, yellow melons were imported by retailers but have been grown here for the first time. They are of 1 to 5 kg but hybrid seeds are expensive. Our survey shows that this trend will increase.”
“PAU’s variety seeds will be affordable and we will be educating villagers about it,” he said, adding that “no pathogens or diseases have been found till now which is a good sign”.
While private companies are claiming total soluble sugar (TSS) levels in yellow melons at 15-16, PAU says around 12 TSS has been recorded.
AVRDC, the World Vegetable Research Center in Taiwan, played a major role in developing yellow melons. They can be sown in winters too.