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Mexican tomato production expected to rise 5% Mexican tomato production in the 2013-14 season is expected to rise moderately, but changes in the status of a suspension agreement between the U.S. and Mexican growers could scrap that prediction.

An annual U.S. Department of Agriculture outlook report on Mexican tomatoes, released in June from the Foreign Agricultural Service, predicts that 2013-14 Mexican tomato production would rise 4.5%, to 2.3 million metric tons. Planted area for fresh tomato production is forecast at 129,730 acres, up 3% from 2012-13 but off 1% from 2011-12. Exports are expected to be fairly stable, at close to 1.4 million metric tons, according to the report.

“Post estimates that tomato production will be good as producers will have more certainty regarding the U.S. market and the functioning of the Tomato Suspension Agreement,” Dulce Flores and Peter Olson said in the USDA report,

Mexican growers signed a new suspension agreement with the U.S. Department of Commerce, effective in March, setting higher minimum prices for tomato shipments to the U.S. The agreement also removes the threat of an antidumping action by U.S. growers against Mexico.

The Florida Tomato Exchange, however, is challenging the legality of that agreement in the U.S. Court of International Trade.

It is too soon to speculate about Mexican tomato acreage and production in 2013-14, said George Gotsis, owner of Omega Produce Co. Inc., Nogales, Ariz. The new floor price of about $8.40 per carton — up from $5.95 per carton in the previous agreement — could leave Mexican tomato exporters vulnerable to price undercutting by Florida tomato marketers next season, he said. Gotsis said seeding of tomato plants will start in the last part of July. That, along with water allocations, may show acreage trends for 2013-14 year, he said.

The 2012-13 marketing year for Mexican tomatoes was characterized by acreage cutbacks and poor weather, according to the USDA’s report. Production was 2.2 million metric tons, down from 2.6 million metric tons in 2011-12. Acreage cutbacks were in part related to uncertainty of the future of the tomato suspension agreement, according to the USDA report.

Mexican tomato acreage has been declining but yields have been climbing, because of greater use of protected agriculture, including greenhouse, shade-house and tunnel systems, according to the FAS.

In 1990, planted tomato area in Mexico was 210,036 acres. That declined to 130,965 in 2011-12, according to the report. However, Mexico’s tomato acreage in protected agriculture grew from 32,173 acres in 2011-12 to 34,500 acres in 2012-13, according to the report.

The tomato-producing states of Sinaloa and Baja California see acres switching from open field production to protected production, according to the report, and used less area while increasing yields. Other regions began to build protected infrastructure to grow tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, zucchini, strawberries, and flowers, according to the USDA.

Greenhouse/shade-house operations are concentrated in the states of Sinaloa, Baja California and Jalisco, but there are also greenhouse operations in the states of Colima, Mexico, Hidalgo, Michoacán, Querétaro, San Luis Potosí, Sonora, and Zacatecas, according to the report.

The report said Mexican growers are seeking to find new export markets after the rocky negotiations with the U.S. for a new tomato suspension agreement. Exporters have shipped some tomatoes to China, Hong Kong and Panama and the report said pilot shipments have been made to Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and other Asian countries.