June 24, 2004
Worth County--- A big change will come in the way we celebrate July 4th holidays in the future. We'll have more choices for one of its traditional foods that go with cookouts and fireworks thanks to a man a man who spends his professional life making watermelons better than ever.
In a field ripe for development, "I've always liked making stuff," says Dr. Fred McCuistion, a watermelon breeder with Seminis, a commercial seed company.
He has the ideal job. "I can eat watermelons all day long," says Fred as he eats a small piece watermelon carved from one of the hundreds in his research field.
"Not all watermelons have to look like this," says Fred pointing out a thick rhine surrounding pale red flesh. He develops watermelons of the future, looking five to ten years ahead to bring new watermelons to market. He influences what we will see in grocery stores.
Seven people help with the research, working with nature to develop better, healthier watermelons without genetic engineering. "This is entirely done through natural selection," says Fred as he watches his crew gather breeding stock to evaluate.
Consumers have had little choice when buying watermelons, all about the same size, about the same color, with about the same taste for the past 30 years. "Those days are over now," says Fred.
Watermelons could reach designer status. "We can pretty much tailor-make a watermelon to fit your desires," says Fred organizing about a dozen watermelons from the old ones to his new ones. Some of the watermelons have big, dark green stripes, others have medium size stripes, along with the traditional watermelons with barely noticeable stripes.
Why should it matter? "Fresh looking appearance," says Fred. Consumers equate the dark green color with freshness. The newer watermelons will have darker, red flesh with more of the cancer fighting chemical lycopene. "Our beauty is more than skin deep," says Fred.
His watermelons will taste better. "Trying to make them sweeter," says Fred. Consumers will have much more of a choice when they go and buy a watermelon in the future, those that will literally fit in the palm of your hand to those much bigger.
Fred has more than an American taste for watermelons. He breeds the fruit for North, Central and South American markets, as well as Europe. "I want to please all those people around the world. He has a small, palm-sized watermelon that easily fits in your hand, ideal for one or two watermelon lovers.
A larger one he calls "blocky" is a little longer than traditional watermelons for a practical reason. "They stack better and ship better," says Fred pointing out the watermelon's block-type shape.
For Dr. Fred McCuistion, his watermelons of the future provide more freedom for consumers, naturally giving more of the good stuff.
By the way, we eat more watermelons during the July 4th holiday than any other time of the year.
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