The US Agricultural Research Service has identified ways in which melon growers can increase the nutrients in their crops, thereby increasing their revenue.

Spraying potassium on melons as they grow in the field boosts the fruit’s beta carotene and vitamin C levels, according to ARS scientists studying this method as a way to make melons more nutritious.

The US is one of the world’s leading producers and consumers of melons. Total US per capita consumption of melons has increased by more than 23% in the past 15 years, to almost 30 pounds per person in 2004.

Gene Lester, a postharvest plant physiologist in the ARS Crop Quality and Fruit Insects Research Unit at Weslaco, Texas, wants to further improve the nutrient content of melons.

Working with the largest cantaloupe and honeydew growers in Texas and other collaborators, Lester has extensively studied spraying potassium on melons during fruit growth. The potassium formulation is relatively simple, inexpensive to use, safe, readily available and can be combined with sprays for insects or disease, according to Lester.

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In greenhouse and field studies on popular commercial melon varieties, applying potassium during fruit development greatly increased the fruit’s level of beta carotene, an antioxidant. Foliar application of potassium also aided the plants’ photosynthesis, ultimately increasing the fruit’s sugar content. This, in turn, raised levels of vitamin C and produced a better-tasting and sweeter melon.

ARS is the US Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.