In May, USDA asked for bids on more than 230,000 25-pound cartons of fresh tomatoes for June delivery. The purchase accounts for about one-fifth the average weekly shipment volume of Florida tomatoes.
The USDA had not yet announced who received the bids in late May. The USDA had previously announced purchases of fresh tomatoes of $1.3 million on Feb. 2, $1.7 million on Feb. 23 and $798,000 on March 23.
“We have been fortunate enough to have a couple of large purchases from USDA since the first of the year,” said Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Exchange.
Brown said the tomato industry has been encouraging USDA to consider fresh tomatoes as a regular purchase for feeding programs, primarily food banks.
“We will continue to work with them to help them buy tomatoes in periods when farmers are in distress (with market prices),” he said.
While market prices have improved to $9-10 per carton for tomatoes in late May, Brown said much of the Florida tomato season saw f.o.b. prices at depressed levels.
Florida’s tomato volume runs normally through the middle of June, but this year the volume will fade by the first week of June. Georgia, South Carolina and Georgia will also be active shippers of tomatoes in June and could be a part of the USDA purchase.