The “trend” for local watermelons was introduced in Belarus by the president Alexander Lukashenko a few years ago. In 2014, visiting one of the farms, he suggested that the southern regions of the country should start cultivating melons and watermelons. And he demonstrated a personal example: the head of state grows these fruit, unusual for Belarus, on his personal farm.
It turned out that watermelon has been grown in Belarus for a long time. A farmer from Brest region tells what it takes, and four volunteers try to tell a home-grown watermelon from imported one.
Watermelon season is over on Vilaly Kutovenko’s melon farm. All ripe fruit grown over three hectares of land this summer have been collected and delivered to the markets. Kutovenko, a farmer from Brest oblast and father of six, grows pears, apples and watermelon.
“To be honest, growing watermelon in Belarus is risky. This year, I worked hard all spring but didn’t make much in the end. There aren’t many advantages.”
Last year, the farming company Veravita harvested over 50 tons of watermelon. This year, the harvest wasn’t counted. “We don’t want to be frustrated”, says the farmer.
Kutovenko picks up one fruit the size of a volley ball. He cuts through the core to reveal pinkish-red flesh. It tastes sweet and watery. No better, but no worse than the imported watermelon available in grocery stores.
From this point on in the season, the remaining melons won’t grow any bigger, but the farmer refuses to sell them half-ripe. Smaller fruits lay around rows in the field. Only the best, juicy watermelons weighing over 5 kilograms, are sold.
“Last year the harvest was a miracle. I couldn’t believe it. It tasted better, too. We had people drive down just for the fruit. And some didn’t believe it was locally grown.”
Last year, Kutovenko had watermelons grown up to 18 kilograms. This year, the weather took control.
“No matter how hard you try, even with modern technology, it’s the weather that decides everything. The rain didn’t come on time and that was the end. The watermelon didn’t grow correctly on time. And there’s nothing one can do about it.”
“Who would have thought?”
The Kutovenko family has been growing watermelons for many years now. “I don’t remember what year we started growing it. But it turned out well. What a beauty it was! You’d cut it, and the inside was a colorful red… And the fruity aroma… Who would have thought?”
Last year, a batch of yellow watermelon was planted. 100 seeds cost the farmer 100 US dollars.
“Even the yellow ones grew. But no one knows about it here. No one wants to import it because it’s so expensive. One seed costs one dollar. Plus the money you have to invest for it to grow… It doesn’t grow big, two kilograms maximum. The core is dark and the inside is yellow.”
“The taste is a mix of pineapple and cantaloupe”, adds Kutovenko’s wife, Irina. Yellow watermelon costs two and half times more the regular priced red melon.
This year, no yellow watermelon was planted. “It all depends on the market, what the people want. The price depends on the market.”
Watermelon is an expensive agricultural start-up, explains the farmer. To grow watermelon, you need a special material called spunbon. Kutovenko spent around ten thousand dollars on this material alone in the previous year. Add in worker’s wages, and that’s a lot of money.
“We couldn’t even add up all the costs. All I know is last year, the money invested was returned, maybe with some profit. The spunbon was leftover for this year. If you want to lose money, go into agriculture”, the farmer jokes.
“People care more about the price”
“Nowadays people care more about the price than the quality”, Kutovenko adds as he discusses his additional business of importing watermelons from Krasnodar, Russia.
According to his calculations, watermelon sold for 45 to 50 kopeikas (~0.26 US dollar cents – note) per kilogram in stores, costs the farmer approximately 20.
“Good watermelon costs about 50 kopeikas per kilogram for delivery. You take the financial loss on yourself. If the watermelon cost you 40 kopeikas, you should sell it for at least 65 or 70 (~0.33 -0.36 US dollar cents – note).”
“The watermelon imported from Russia is not good quality. They ship us the ones no one wants. We live in a time where people care more about the price than the quality.”
Despite the fruitless harvest this year, Kutovenko plans to continue growing watermelon. “People have been coming to us for over ten years. Even this year, people came and asked ‘Is there any of your watermelon?'”
The original version of this article was published by TUT.BY on September 9, 2016. Translation by Mariya Pekar for BelarusFeed.