The North Carolina Specialty Crops Program was created in 1997 to identify and develop new agricultural commodities and value-added products for 13 counties in Eastern North Carolina. In 2001, a Golden LEAF grant allowed the program to expand statewide. The program is a partnership of the North Carolina Agricultural Research Service at North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. These agencies work together to develop new crops and products, to increase agricultural profitability and to reduce production and marketing risks. The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences provides agronomic expertise while the NCDA&CS provides marketing expertise.
Among the early successes of the Specialty Crops Program is a melon called Sprite. Sprite melons received very favorable acceptance in the market in 2001. From 40 to 45 acres were grown, with production spread among 10 commercial growers. Gross sales totaled about $600,000. Currently there are no other melon cultivars like Sprite on the market. Its brix, a measure of sweetness, can run as high as 17, but is typically between 14 and 16, which is higher than other melons currently produced commercially. Sprite production was limited in 2002 by a seed production failure. Even so, approximately 60 acres of the melons were grown, with a value of around $1 million. Expansion of Sprite acreage is expected in coming years. In 2003, North Carolina farmers are expected to grow over 125 acres of Sprite melons and sell over $2 million worth. The melons are but one of a number of new crops for North Carolina growers from the Specialty Crops Program.