Cantaloupe farmers look to bounce back with this year’s crop

Published: Apr. 19, 2013 at 3:35 AM EDT|Updated: Apr. 24, 2013 at 3:36 AM EDT
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TY TY, GA (WALB) - Some South Georgia cantaloupe farmers are hoping sales will bounce back this year.

They tanked last year when cantaloupes from other parts of the country caused Listeria and Salmonella outbreaks that led to several deaths.

Now, the Food and Drug Administration is stepping in to make sure those types of outbreaks don't happen again.

Cantaloupe season is off to a slow start for Ty Ty farmer Alan Parish. He says this time last year, his crops were twice the size they are now.

"It's not looking real good. It's been too cold and the 18 inches of rain that we had 3 weeks ago held us back. It's just a slow start. We're about a month behind where we were last year," said Parish.

But this is the least of Parish's worries these days because of Listeria and Salmonella outbreaks last year caused by contaminated cantaloupe from Indiana and Colorado farms.

The outbreak caused several deaths across the nation, put a black eye on this industry and sent farmers into major PR mode.

"We're down right now in consumer purchasing probably about 30%-40% in cantaloupes," said Eastern Cantaloupe Growers Association President Bill Brim.

That's one reason why farmers like Parish and Bill Brim created the Eastern Cantaloupe Growers Association, also known as ECGA, back in January to increase consumer confidence and hopefully pick sales back up.

"There's no guarantee that nothings not going to happen, but we're trying to do everything possible that we can to make sure that consumer feels safe and that it is a safe product," said Brim.

Now the FDA is cracking down on farmers to insure no more outbreaks will occur by conducting more inspections and possibly setting higher guidelines.

"If it helps get safe cantaloupes on the market, then it helps my market. We don't want anybody producing an unsafe product," said Parish.

Parish says the ECGA's standards are higher than the ones already set by the FDA, but he's all on board to make sure the crop is safe.

"It doesn't matter how safe I am, if the next farmer has a problem, then it's going to ruin everybody's business," said Parish.

He hopes this season will be better than the last.

To find out more about the Eastern Cantaloupe Growers Association and how to join it, click here.

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