Wednesday, June 1, 2011

When watermelons attack: Chinese farmers caught off guard by exploding crop

  May 17, 2011 – 1:46 PM ET | Last Updated: May 17, 2011 4:46 PM ET
(National Post) It was supposed to be a typical watermelon crop, or at least that’s what 20 Chinese farmers were expecting. Instead, they watched in horror as their fields of fruit began exploding like “landmines,” according to The Guardian. This is why it is important to read the instructions while working with plant biotechnology.

The group of farmers decided to use a chemical spray known as forchlorfenuron, a plant growth accelerator that is normally used on grapes and kiwi fruit in the United States. To put it simply — the plant compound stimulates lateral growth within the fruit, and can also make it firmer and last longer.

However, the Chinese farmers sprayed their watermelon too late in the growing season and during wet conditions — two big no-nos when it comes to using the popular growth regulator. While they were hoping to see a 20% increase in growth to their crop, the overuse of chemicals caused the watermelons to explode instead. It didn’t help that the farmers, who had never used the drug before, were using thin-rind melons — which are known for splitting as they ripen. Forchlorfenuron is also not really meant for watermelons, but for smaller fruit.

According to China’s central broadcaster, CCTV, one farmer estimated at least three acres of his crop had exploded. In total, it is believed 115 acres of watermelon were blown apart.

While the watermelon crisis is seems almost trivial compared to the messy regulation of farming practices in China, scientists in the area say that the fruit is not dangerous — besides a bit of stomach irritation if ingested.

“In general we don’t suggest chemicals with plant hormones be used on watermelons, as they are very sensitive. They might end up looking very strange and people will not want to buy them,” Cui Jian, director of the vegetable research institute at Qingdao Academy of Agricultural Science told The Guardian. “The taste won’t be as good and storage is more difficult, but it should not harm anyone’s health.”

Where are the “landmines” now? The farmers fed the aftermath to pigs.

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