The national survey of major stakeholders (consumers, producers, marketers, and retailers) demonstrated that when purchasing melons, consumers prioritized flavor, nutrition, safety, sweetness, texture, and color. Stakeholder input as well as our ongoing research and outreach activities showed that the critical needs of the melon industry include improving production of safer and highly nutritious melons, enhancing microbiological safety and exploiting the genetic diversity of melons.
Mission Melon is aimed at accomplishing 5 consumer-driven objectives:
We hypothesize that new melon varieties bred to be safer, healthy, and flavorful will result in higher consumer acceptance and willingness-to-pay. We use consumer input to develop safe and healthy flavorful melons. The study includes use of biometric responses and discrete choice experiments in the Human Behavior Laboratory
We use genomics-assisted selection and breeding to harness genetic diversity of melon varieties and to improve nutritional quality, flavor, safety, and stress resistance. We hypothesize that genomics-assisted breeding with diverse germplasm will produce new cultivars with improved quality, yield, and disease resistance. This study, conducted by genomics & breeding experts, include new F1 hybrids of muskmelon and honeydew and elite inbred lines of specialty melons- Casaba, Harper and green-fleshed Asian type.
This objective focuses on improving production efficiency and retail/nutritional quality and safety of melon varieties. We hypothesize that cultivar choice and mineral nutrient management can affect yield and consumer preference quality traits, and that crop management practices such as timing
and method of irrigation affect fruit susceptibility to microbial contamination. The impacts of region-specific production characteristics (soil type, planting time/year, plasticulture, type, spacing, irrigation, and nutrient management) on yield, fruit quality characteristics (netting, thickness, rind and flesh firmness, color, Brix) will be analyzed to determine optimal practices and locations for the production of specific cultivars.
We hypothesize that: (i) lightly-netted genotypes (not completely smooth skin) will be less susceptible to microbial surface contamination/biofilms than densely-netted melons, (ii)
susceptibility to contamination will be a function of contact with the environmental matrices, bioactive components, crop management practices and not genomic composition of the pathogen; (iii) plant antimicrobial washes, organic sanitizers, and antimicrobial edible films (in-contrast to currently used hot water or steam methods)
will reduce surface contamination and microbial diversity on cantaloupes irrespective of netting;
and (iv) electrostatic spray and fogging systems will be more effective than current treatments.
The focus is on integrating all the objectives to improve consumer awareness and meeting the consumer demand for safe, high-quality melons that exceed minimum quality standards and thereby result in increased profits for producers and retailers. We hypothesize that an improved education and outreach program will raise consumer awareness and facilitate adoption of healthy cultivars, provide economic benefits to growers and improve socioeconomic impacts for all members of the supply chain.