PALMETTO, Fla. — The start of Florida’s fall tomato deal is marked by lower volume and an expected later arrival of promotable volume.

Though harvesting started a little earlier than normal, yields are reported to be down by as much as a third and shippers expect promotable volume to start a week to 10 days later than normal.

Florida tomato deal starts with lower yields and higher prices

Doug Ohlemeier

Workers grade grape tomatoes at East Coast Brokers and Packers Inc., Plant City, Fla., in late October. Florida’s tomato season is opening with smaller early volume and higher than normal opening season prices. Shippers say they expect promotable volume to hit in late November, a week to 10 days later than normal.

The combination of extreme heat and heavy rains that hit during the early fall growing season damaged early plantings.

Drops in California volume and the decline of Virginia’s Eastern Shore production should keep opening season prices a little higher than normal, shippers said in late October.

Tony DiMare, vice president of the Homestead-based DiMare Co., said he expects promotable volume to hit close to Thanksgiving, Nov. 26.

Though central Florida growers began picking mature greens, romas and grape tomatoes in early October, the region normally hits with heavy volume in mid-November.

“True volume will be a little later than normal because the front end crops were hurt,” DiMare said in late October. “When you go back and second pick those crops, you won’t experience near-normal volume.”

Record-breaking daytime temperatures, warm nights and excessive rains caused bloom drop that prevented much of the fruit from setting.

Larry Lipman, chief executive officer of the Lipman Family Cos., Immokalee, said he expects prices to rise.

“The market in the next few weeks will get very hot because no one will have them (tomatoes),” he said in late October. “California will run out of them and Quincy (Fla.) will be on the downside. This area will not be coming up as fast as it normally would.”

While south Florida normally begins with heavy volume by Nov. 10, Lipman said he expects promotable volume to begin after Thanksgiving.

While prices opened a little higher for the start of the Florida season, prices by the end of the month began falling as central Florida tomato production began increasing.

On Oct. 29, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported these prices for 25-pound cartons of loose mature greens: 5x6s, $13.95; 6x6s, $12.95; 6x7s, $10.95-11.95. That was down from the week before when 5x6s sold for $17.95, 6x6s, $15.95, and 6x7s, $13.95.

Last year in mid-November from central Florida: 5x6s sold for $19.95; 6x6s, $18.95; and 6x7s, $17.95.

On cherry tomatoes, flats of 12 1-pint baskets marketed for $15.95, down from $16.50-16.95 but higher than $8.95 last year.

For grape tomatoes from central Florida, flats of 12 1-pint containers with lids marketed for $10.95-11.95; 20-pound cartons of loose grapes sold for $19.95-21.95, down from earlier in the week when the 1-pint containers sold for $12.95-13.95 and the bulk sold for $24.95-25.95.

Last year, the USDA reported mid-November pints selling for $16.95-17.95 with cartons at $32.95-33.95.

Romas from central Florida sold for $11.95 for 25-pound cartons for extra-large and large with mediums selling for $9.95-10.95, down from $13.95 for extra-large and large and $11.95 for medium.  

Last year in mid-November, romas from central Florida sold for $16.95-17.95 for extra-large, $15.95-16.95 for large, and $14.95-15.95 for mediums.

Northern Florida production at Quincy usually starts in early October and runs through Thanksgiving.

Palmetto-Ruskin volume normally runs through Christmas, overlapping Immokalee and south Florida, which runs through the end of April, when central Florida’s spring volume resumes. Homestead volume normally starts after Christmas with volume in January through March.