Arkansas growers prepare tomatoes for June 10 startBecause of unseasonably cool, wet weather, the Arkansas tomato deal will likely begin later this season, grower-shippers said.

As of May 6, Hermitage, Ark.-based Randy Clanton Farms was running two to three weeks behind schedule thanks to Mother Nature, with production expected to begin about June 10 or slightly earlier, said Randy Clanton, the company’s owner.

“Our biggest problem has been that the weather’s been so cold and we’ve had so much moisture,” Clanton said.

The weather could affect not only the timing of this year’s crop but also yields, Clanton said.

“The cold will probably affect some sets at the bottom,” he said. “The younger plantings are probably not going to be affected quite as bad. The jury is still out on some what kind of crop we’ll have down here.”

The likely June 10 start will actually be closer to historical norms, said Gary Margolis, president of Gem Tomato & Vegetable Sales Inc., Boca Raton, Fla., marketer of Arkansas-grown Triple M tomatoes. The past two years, Margolis said, harvest has been early.

Other than slowing the crop down some, the cold shouldn’t hurt this year’s tomatoes, Margolis said.

“The crop is looking good, “ he said. “There’s no effect at this point on yields and quality.”

So far Clanton has seen little insect pressure, but there is some frost burn.

Good weather later in May could clear up some of the cold-related issues, and the forecast for the week of May 6 looked promising, with dry weather and higher temperatures likely, Clanton said.

Randy Clanton Farms’ round and grape tomato production will likely be about the same this year, but its roma production is up, Clanton said.

Overall acreage in Arkansas, however, will likely be down in 2013. Clanton said he knew of one grower who’s not even planting this year.

What Clanton is more confident about this season is demand.

“We’ve always seen demand for Arkansas tomatoes, and I think that will remain the same,” he said. “We have the first home-grown vine-ripes of the year, and that has appeal for customers throughout the country.”

Margolis agreed.

“The move towards local and regional is really helping us in the Arkansas deal,” he said. “A considerable part of the crop is already pre-sold.”

On May 7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $16.95-19.95 for 25-pound cartons of loose mature-green 5x6s from Florida, up from $8.95 last year at the same time.

Triple M’s acreage is similar this year, with a similar mix of rounds and romas, Margolis said.

The company expects to ship through about July 20.