Arthur Saikhon, 54 years old, is a third generation watermelon farmer in Brawley, CA and Bakersfield, CA. After graduating from Cal Poly in 1984 with an Agriculture Business Degree, he started the Saikhon Company in 1986 with his father. His grandfather immigrated to the United States from India, first settling near San Francisco and then moving to Fresno and ultimately to the Imperial Valley in Southern California.
The farm in Brawley, CA has approximately 1,800 acres of watermelon and other crops that include sweet corn, onion, hay crops (Sudan, wheat and different grains), lettuce, and a variety of vegetables. Arthur is partnered with a family in Bakersfield, CA and they produce about 150 acres of watermelons.
So when does watermelon season start? Arthur plants watermelons once a year, preparing the ground in November and December. Staggered planting begins in February and the crops are picked over a period of time during harvest. Watermelons mature in about 90 days and each plant produces on average two watermelons.
The watermelons grown on his farm are seedless. Seeded watermelons tend to be sweeter, but not worrying about seeds is the convenient choice among consumers. Each plant is grown in a greenhouse before being transplanted to the field. Distance between each plant is 38-40 inches, allowing adequate space for the vine to grow. Watermelons grow best in warm temperatures, between 100 and 105 degrees. This temperature provides the best conditions for color and sweetness.
During harvesting, standard bins are used to hold the watermelons, which are separated by size. Sizing ranges from 36 count per bin, to a 45 count – which is the popular standard size, and to the smallest of a 60 count for each bin. Arthur grows approximately 10,000 tons of watermelon each season. Harvesting is labor intensive as all watermelons are picked by hand.
Like with all farming in California, water use is important. Watermelons are 92% water. Arthur’s farm uses the drip irrigation system for maximum efficiency and has been for the past 18-20 years. “Water usage for watermelons is two acre foot per acre which is a relatively small amount. Without such a watering system, seedless watermelons would be difficult to grow,” he says.
The company has been successful in the watermelon industry for three generations, focused on controlling the quality of their product from growing, harvesting, packing, and distribution.
Not only is Arthur a seasoned watermelon farmer, he is also part of two national watermelon associations, the National Watermelon Association (NWA) and the National Watermelon Promotion Board (NWPB). As a member of the Auction Load Committee for the NWA, Arthur donates watermelons for the annual NWA auction.