“The true Southern watermelon is a boon apart, and not to be mentioned with common things. It is chief of this world’s luxuries, king by the grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat. It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve took; we know it because she repented.” – Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson
With the Fourth of July holiday on our minds, this Weekly Insight reviews the production, consumption, and trade of America’s favorite melon.
In 2022, the USDA estimated that 93,200 acres of watermelon were harvested in the U.S. (Figure 1). Since 2016, acreage has been on a downward decline, with 2022 acreage 17% lower than in 2016.
The USDA also tracks acreage for the eight major producing states (Figure 2). As one might expect, the fruit is well suited for the southern regions. Florida alone accounts for 36% of U.S. acreage, followed by Georgia (29%) and Texas (25%). Perhaps the most surprising state on the list is Indiana, at 6,900 acres, ahead of Arizona and South Carolina.
In 2021, U.S. consumption of watermelon was 14.4 pounds per capita (Figure 3). Since the 1990s, per capita consumption ranged between 13 and 16 pounds. However, it wasn’t that long ago that consumption was considerably lower. In the 1970s, consumption was often less than 14 pounds and reached a low of 10.7 pounds in 1980.
When it comes to melon, watermelon is America’s favorite. In 2021, cantaloupe consumption was just 5.2 pounds per person and honeydew was 1.4 pounds. Stated slightly differently, Americans’ consumption of watermelon is more than double cantaloupe and honeydew combined.
However, watermelon’s lead as “top melon” wasn’t always as decisive. As recently as 2002, cantaloupe consumption exceeded 11 pounds per capita before starting a two-decade decline.
A Global Story
To fully appreciate watermelon’s story, we also need to consider the global perspective. In the 1970s and 1980s, imports accounted for an average of 7% of domestic consumption. Since the 1990s, U.S. watermelon supplies have relied more on imports (Figure 4). Most recently, imports accounted for an all-time high of 37% of the U.S. supply in 2022.
Where do watermelon imports come from? It’s not surprising that warm climates and short travel distances create significant trade advantages for the high-moisture, perishable fruit. In 2022, Mexico accounted for 82% of U.S. imports, with Guatemala and Honduras also significant sources of imports.
Finally, the U.S. is, overall, a small player in the global watermelon economy. While nearly 100,000 acres harvested may seem like a lot, it accounts for just 1.3% of global acreage. Figure 6 shows the top watermelon-producing countries. China, with nearly 3.5 million acres harvested in 2022, stands out as the country accounts for 46% of global watermelon acreage.
Wrapping It Up
Sometimes we never know where the data will take us. For watermelon, the USDA had a surprising amount of data about U.S. production, consumption, and imports. While most of our readers aren’t directly connected with watermelon production, we hope you enjoy the topic and have a safe, enjoyable Fourth of July holiday. We’ll let you decide if watermelon lives up to Mark Twain’s hype.
 The USDA also has data on pounds of production. However, the U.S. does slightly better at 1.7% of global production.