Excellent growing weather promise a high-quality crop of Arkansas tomatoes, and an acreage drop could strengthen demand, grower-shippers said.
A warm March in Arkansas tempted growers to plant early, but Hamburg, Ark.-based Triple M Farms largely resisted the temptation, in the interest of protecting its early-summer market, said Gary Margolis, president of Gem Tomato & Vegetable Sales Inc., Boca Raton, Fla., marketer of Triple M tomatoes.
“We planted a week early, but not excessively early,” Margolis said. “We’ve got our niche, and we don’t want to be overaggressive.”
That’s of particular concern this season, given the low pricing that has plagued Florida and Mexican tomato growers this winter, Margolis said.
As of April 30, Hermitage, Ark.-based Randy Clanton Farms was running about 10 days ahead of normal due to the abnormally high temperatures, said Randy Clanton, owner.
Some early fruit should ship in late May, with the bulk coming on beginning in early June, Clanton said. The company expects a typical July 15-20 end to the deal.
Margolis is optimistic that when Triple M begins shipping about June 1, demand for Arkansas product will be strong. The company expects to ship from Arkansas through about July 20.
“I predict a stable market,” Margolis said.
On May 1, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $5.95-6.95 for 25-pound cartons of 5x6 loose mature green tomatoes from Florida, down from $8.95-9.95 last year at the same time.
An expected gap between Florida production and Arkansas production should help make that prediction come true, he said.
Arkansas growers could benefit from the decision by a major growers not to plant this year, Clanton said. That could yield a 10% to 15% drop in acreage, he said.
Higher yields due to the excellent growing weather, however, could make up much of that acreage loss, Clanton said. Clanton Farms’ acreage will be largely unchanged from 2011, Clanton said.
Even a 10% volume loss could be a stretch, Margolis said, but he agreed with Clanton that Arkansas production should be down this season.
Quality should be excellent, barring any last-minute weather issues, Margolis said.
“The tomatoes look great, the yields look good,” he said. “The growers are extremely optimistic about this year’s crop.”
Clanton seconded that.
“The weather’s been extremely nice this year, as fine as I’ve ever seen it,” he said. “The pollination has been fantastic. The crop is in excellent shape.”
Arkansas growers should have plenty of the jumbo-sized fruit the region is famous for, Clanton said.