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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Desire for Really Big Melons Blows Up in China

Once again China's food practices hit the news, but instead of poisoning people or animals things blew up farmer's faces, so to speak. Apparently farmers in the Jiangsu province got a little over indulgent with the growth enhancer, forchlorfenuron, on their watermelon crops and along with higher than normal precipitation, created a perfect storm of exploding watermelons.

Now, you might think that it's a major tragedy for these farmers to lose their crops, but producing watermelons from a country that values karma, you could say that their farming practices came back to bite them. The desire for higher yields and faster production for the market activated the greed gene and now they've lost their entire crops within 3-4 days. Pow, pow, pow, pow.

Being one who appreciates black humor, I couldn't help myself but break out in hysterical laughter upon hearing about this incidence as I visualized water melons exploding in the fields like land mines. Perhaps future harvests will have to be done from armored vehicles. Looking at the photos of the aftermath, I'd say some of the melons resembled big red and green popped popcorn. Many were simply cracked in pieces.

The farmers want to blame the seed that came from Japan, as apparently some of the melons that didn't get sprayed with the growth enhancer also blew up. The melons that were sprayed started exploding within a day or two of the treatment. Of course there is the possibility of drift or chemical leaching into neighboring farms. As investigators have not come up with a solid reason for the exploding melons, I can't help but think that, as with most agricultural catastrophes, it's probably a combination of things; weather, temperature, timing, ignorance and in this case, growth enhancers. A lesson in humility? perhaps. It is also a lesson in how better farming through chemistry often isn't. Mother nature always wins and it's better to work with nature than try and always control it. Bad farming practices have plagued agriculture since its beginnings. Human fixes seem to present unintended consequences causing more problems that require fixing. This seems like just another example of human hubris.

A lesson for us PNW veg gardeners? Since we don't grow watermelons on this side of the mountains this particular crop isn't an issue for us. But with all of the rain we've been getting this year, don't use
forchlorfenuron on your zucchini.

Here's an article and video about this story from the BBC: