How these Malaysian farmers grew the world’s most expensive melons

Premium fruit is an industry unto itself in Japan, where gift-giving has long been a tradition marked with deep meaning and deeper pockets. A 15,000 yen muskmelon might just be a starting point; in 2019, a pair of Yubari King melons from Sapporo was auctioned for a breathtaking 5 million yen (over RM190,000)!

But what has this got to do with farmers in Putrajaya? Enter Mono Premium Melon, a wholly Malaysian-owned endeavor focused on locally farmed muskmelons. The fruits are grown from the seeds of Arus muskmelons, considered the most expensive melons in the world, that are sourced from Japan.

Mono’s co-founders are a team with a substantial background in agriculture: hydroponics and fertilizer expert Seh Cheng Siang, 40, is joined by Mohd Sofian bin Ali, 47 (agriculture engineering), Yeo Chen Swee, 51 (agrochemical and pest & disease management), and Michael Lo, 42 (sales and marketing).

Seh says, “We decided to start up our first melon farm in Putrajaya. It houses close to 10,000 melons. We would like to showcase that many Malaysian growers can produce equivalent if not better-quality fruits compared to imported fruits.” One of the challenges in farming muskmelons in Malaysia as compared to other countries, according to Seh, is the selection of melon varieties that will suit our hot and humid weather.

He explains, “We have tested more than 100 varieties of melons. A few types have been selected based on their suitability to grow in tropical weather, resistance to disease, eating quality, and shelf life.” Other considerations include technical know-how and growing techniques; precise water and nutrient management; as well as the perennial issue of manpower.

Exactly how premium are these melons? Well, for one, the farmers will only keep one fruit per plant to concentrate the nutrients absorbed. Seh says, “We have a limited quantity of 200 premium Japanese melons grown with full care. ‘We dare to reject’ which means we only select the most well-grown melons and reject the balance.”

These are grown in “a fully environmental control greenhouse” where they are watered and fed by a plant-driven hydroponics system called Autopot. Seh says, “It helps regulate the watering and feeding based on plants’ requirement; not water and fertilizer run-off and wastage.”

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