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Photo by SUZETTE COOK/Citizen
Watermelon harvest crews sweep through Levy County

Suzette Cook, Reporter

Watermelon Farmer James Swilley of Chiefland is in full harvest mode this week as picking crews from Pequeño Harvesting, LLC sweep through his fields off County Road 129.

Dozens of pickers gently toss the fruit in chains of three or four to buses where each watermelon is stacked to the brim.

“In North Florida, by the time we’re started, they’ve finished,” Swilley said about the harvest in South Florida and in Georgia.

In the packing shed, Swilley explains the sorting process. “There’s 36, 45, or 60," he said. The smallest size will fit 60 per carton, medium will pack 45 to a carton and 36 large watermelons fill a carton.

One harvest employee is cutting into random melons tasting them for quality control. He also checks for scars as the fruit passes by on a conveyor belt linked directly to a side belt along the buses that come in from the field.

The receiver taps each watermelon looking for a solid sound and forwards it to the line of packers each standing in front of a carton to fill.