By JOSIE MUSICO, A-J MEDIA
PLAINS — “Mucho trabajo.” Bernardin Hernandez works quickly in McWhirter Farms’ watermelon fields, moving fruits from the ground to the arms of an awaiting co-worker. He took just a moment to offer that two-word description — Spanish for “hard work” — and wipe sweat from his brow. Pitchin’ melons ain’t easy. “They’re heavy,” Hernandez said in Spanish.
Since harvest launched earlier this week in Yoakum County’s vast watermelon acreage, Hernandez and his fellow farmhands have had no shortage of labor. Ideal weather — plenty of rain followed by July heat — has so far led to plentiful crops.
Before the melons arrive at the McWhirter warehouse just west of Plains for processing, “pitching” crews in nearby fields load them one at a time onto trucks. Because the fruits have been pre-cut from the vine, they can be moved quickly and efficiently. About three workers on each side of the truck move the melons assembly-line style from the ground to another worker waiting in the bed of the truck. Just ahead of them works a separate crew, called “cutters.” Cutting melons from the vine is as physically hard as pitching them, but requires a certain skill level.
To determine if the fruits are ripe, cutter Carlos Hernandez examines their color and size. If a melon appears too green or grayish-tinted and is significantly smaller than its neighbors, he leaves it to finish growing. Larger, correctly colored melons, on the other hand, he cuts from the vine with a utility knife and arranges in an organized row for the pitchers to retrieve.