Watermelon Crops Exploding in China. No Literally!

No, this isn’t a story about a sudden boom in watermelon crops in China.  The boom in this case is a bit more literal.  Farmers are reporting that their crops of watermelon are literally exploding, ruining them and leaving them all in a sticky situation.  And while some have proposed the problem could be created by a new chemical being used to treat the crops, others are not so sure.

Watermelon has been grown in China since the tenth century AD.  And yet in all that time since then there has never been such a perplexing problem facing farmers as this.  This seasons crop is quite literally blowing up in their faces.  And what’s more no one knows why.  One farmer reported to a local Chinese newspaper that he was alerted to the problem when he came out and found one of the fruits burst open.  He returned inside and then when he came back out four more had been burst open.  This would not be overly unusual, except his entire crop had been fenced in.  Others are reporting equally extreme examples – and some have even witnessed the crops exploding.

The crops, cultivated in Eastern China have been blamed on a chemical used to increase crop yield.  State controlled media in Jiangsu looked into the matter and discovered that the interior of the fruit grows faster than the shell and as a result pressure builds up inside it.  This is the official explanation.  But if the chemical is to blame for the explosion in crops, then it’s certainly working fast.  And according to the news agency Xinhua, those using the chemical prior to May 6th were already seeing explosions by May 10th.  After only four days of using the chemical the fruit was growing so fast the shelled exterior was exploding.  This has led many of the investigators of the problem to suggest the answer must lie elsewhere.

But even as the investigation heats up and experts are weighing in on this case bursting with mystery, it seems it may be yet another problem affecting crop yield.  Some in the Chinese agricultural community are blaming the problem on sabotage.  But a clandestine plot to ruin a competitor’s watermelon crop is hardly the sort of thing you would expect an intelligence agency to spend time on, right?  Actually that’s precisely the sort of thing the CIA worked on in Cuba.  In December of 1960, shortly before the Bay of Pigs invasion the CIA explored the idea of a plot to destroy sugar crops in the communist country and Soviet ally.  Consulting with US corporations who were operating in Cuba they looked into the possibility of burning their competitors crops and generally making trouble for their competition.  Of course the plot was also some fifty years ago.

Of course it’s also possible that the explosion in crops is due to a thus far unknown disease.  A thousand years of cultivation may seem like a long history, but in the time-scale of crop growth it is possible there are still diseases that have only just recently found a niche in their new favorite host.  And with the high strangeness of this case, it seems investigations will be continuing for quite some time.