The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to purchase $4.5 million in fresh tomatoes.

“This purchase will assist tomato growers who are struggling with challenging marketing conditions caused by an oversupply of domestic tomatoes, international competition, and declining prices” Edward Avalos, USDA under secretary of Marketing and Regulatory Programs said in an April 4 e-mail. “The purchase will help mitigate further downward prices, stabilize market conditions, and provide high-quality, nutritious food to recipients of USDA’s nutrition programs.”

The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service purchases a variety of food products to supply federal nutrition programs, including the national school lunch program and emergency food assistance program.

The tomato industry in Florida made a request to the USDA for a fresh tomato purchase a couple of months ago, said Tony DiMare, vice president of the Homestead-based DiMare Co.

DiMare said he had not seen details of the purchase as of April 4.

“It sounds good,” he said. “We’re going to have to see what the volume amounts to.”

He said the USDA purchases of fresh tomatoes are needed, and not just because of the dollars alone.

“You are not looking to move loads when the market is high, you are looking to move volume when the market is typically cheaper,” he said.

DiMare said USDA purchases are not just a spring or winter need for growers.

“We feel like there should be at least a request made to solicit a buy from the government on a regular basis, even if it is in the fall of the year,” he said.

Market conditions for Florida tomatoes were weakening in early April, DiMare said April 4. DiMare said a $12-14 f.o.b. market of several weeks ago has been replaced by a f.o.b. market from $7-10 per carton and trending more to $7-8 per carton, he said.

DiMare said Homestead tomato production will fade out by mid-April, with Immokalee fields expected to have production until early May. Round tomatoes from Palmetto-Ruskin, Fla., will begin by mid-April, he said, with the region’s grape tomatoes beginning by about April 7.

For more information, contact: Contracting Officer, USDA/AMS Commodity Procurement Staff, Stop 0256, 1400 Independence Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20250;(202) 720-4517; or visit the AMS website at www.ams.usda.gov.