Asking growers to plant tomatoes for the U.S. market only when prices are high is difficult, he said.
“It is not a faucet you can turn on and off,” he said.
The new minimum price of $8.30 per carton of open-field tomato romas compares with $6.85 per carton roma price in mid-February.
“If you were looking at an $8.30 (minimum), I wouldn’t be able to ship them right now,” Bennen said.
He said he hopes the March 4 market is above $8.30 per carton.
“If it is not anywhere near that or below that, tomatoes are going to stay in Mexico and won’t cross,” he said.
That could create upward pressure on Florida prices and soon increase the appeal of growing tomatoes in countries like Honduras and the Dominican Republic.
Bennen said a new component of the agreement is the possibility of Perishable Agricultutral Commodities Act sanctions with prices below the minimum.
“I could be put out of business with any sales that are below the minimum,” he said.
That will make distributors reluctant to risk losing their whole business on tomatoes, he said.
Asked for comment on the USDA’s role in enforcing the suspension agreement, a statement from the Agricultural Marketing Service said “the proposed agreement currently includes language stating that violations of the suspension agreement could also be found to be violations of the PACA.”
In addition, the proposed agreement might mandate that the selling agent should be a PACA licensee.
“PACA will not have a specific role in monitoring of prices, nor record keeping, but will, as it does in normal course, accept, analyze, and investigate legitimate complaints of violations under PACA provisions,” the USDA said in the statement.