(Nov. 1) Buyers should expect an upgrade in the quality of Florida vegetables as October production problems wane and November supplies pick up.
Growers said the heat and rain that plagued early crops in the northern part of the state have been less of a hindrance in most growing areas to the south. Still, they were hoping that a forecasted cold front in the final days of October would help crops set fruit with nighttime temperatures in the 60s.
Heading into the first two weeks of November, growers said spotty bacteria problems and relatively small sizing on some items should clear, and Thanksgiving shipments should exhibit good quality.
Temperatures averaged 6 degrees to 8 degrees above normal during the north Florida growing season around Quincy, said Joseph Esformes, chief executive officer of Palmetto, Fla.-based Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd.
That, coupled with excessive humidity, made the north Florida tomato crops extremely sensitive and the whole deal a little rocky, he said.
“But in Palmetto-Ruskin, the quality will be fine, I think. The yields will be normal for a fall crop.”
While that was likely, growers said, the quality of early production out of Palmetto-Ruskin — the backbone of the fall deal in the west central part of the state — was hit-and-miss on light volume in late October. Some houses were getting a packout rate of as little as 14 cartons from a field bin of tomatoes. Bins hold the equivalent of 40 cartons, and a normal packout rate is 30 or more cartons.
“The first planting is a little rough,” Bill Butler, sales manager for Ruskin-based Ruskin Vegetable Corp., said in late October. “The yield is down, and the size is down. But the second planting will be better. If the weather will leave us alone, every day will be a little better than the previous day.”
The tomato market in late October, growers said, was $11-12 for 5x6s, $10-11 for 6x6s and $9-10 for 6x7s.
Last season, the market fell from a late October high of near $10 on weekly shipments of less than 200,000 cartons to less than $6 on weekly shipments of 2.7 million cartons by early December, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Tomato plantings in Florida this fall will total 15,500 acres, according to the Orlando-based Florida Agricultural Statistics Service. That’s a 10.7% increase over last fall’s 14,000 acres and a 16.5% increase of the 13,300 harvested in the fall of 2000.
Chuck Weisinger, president of Weis-Buy Farms Inc., Fort Myers, Fla., said Florida tomatoes should hit good volume by mid-November.