How the drought is affecting melon farmers

Eye on KELOLAND

FORESTBURG, S.D. (KELO) — When you think about farming in South Dakota, you may think of corn, soybeans, wheat or alfalfa. The dry weather has impacted all farmers, but there are some that may not come to mind who are struggling as well.

Larson’s Melons west of Forestburg along Highway 34 has been a hotspot for people traveling in the area for 23 years — however, the dry weather this year has been a challenge.

“Melons are a desert crop and they like it hot and dry, but there’s a limit to everything. We’ve reached that limit. We did get an inch and a quarter rain a week ago today, and that’s the first big rain we’ve had all year long,” owner Kelly Larson said.

High moisture in recent years has helped.

“Things look good around here, but the only reason is because, you know, in 2019 we had 38 inches of rain. We had a lot of subsoil moisture. We get another year like this, things won’t look like this,” Larson said.

They planted 50,000 melon sets this year. They plant the melons in mid-May and start picking them in late July. With the drought this year, Larson said the quality of the melons is exceptional, but the quantity is down.

“We’ll probably have a half a crop this year if we’re lucky. We’ll have half the melons we had last year. It’s down, but it’s not going to take anything away from the quality of them, but we’re going to be down,” Larson said.

Larson’s dad started the melon business in 1952, but the number of stands near Forestburg has dwindled since then.

“There used to be 17 stands from Forestburg to Huron. Now there’s three. It’s labor intense. People don’t want to work. You can’t get good help, and so consequently, my mother is 90 years old. She drives for us, our vehicles that we have. My brother, my two brothers, they help, and I pretty much take care of the stand,” Larson said.

But no matter what, people from all over the state are still making their way here — including Curt Aasheim from Canton.

“We’re retired now, and I kind of like to go out and look at the crops. Old farmer, you know, so we like to look at stuff and see what’s going on. Like I’ve said, I’ve known Kelly for a long time, and it’s kind of fun to just go say hi to pick a melon. They’re good melons. They’re really good melons,” he said.

Ann Arnoldy was traveling back to Kennebec on Highway 34 – for her it’s a long-time tradition.

“When I was kid, we’d go the State Fair. We’d always stop at the melon stand and get some Forestburg melons. I was passing through and I saw the stand was open, and I thought, well I’ll stop and pick up a melon or two,” she said.

It’s not just people who enjoy the melons.

This cow is a frequent visitor to the melon stand.

Larson said she separates herself from the herd and comes up every morning.

Larson has debated getting out of the business the last few years.

“We’re a dying breed. It’s not going to last very much longer,” he said.

But he said he looks forward to the season every year and seeing satisfied customers and familiar faces.

“We get to see a lot of people. A lot of people, and you know what’s rewarding is when people come by and they’ll say, ‘Thank you. Thank you for what you do,’ and you know, that’s good pay,” Larson said.

Good pay the Larson family has enjoyed for decades.

The stand is open every day from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Later in the fall, they will have pumpkins and squash.

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