Low Florida tomato volume expected to run through mid-April

03/01/2010 12:11:26 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

He said he expects Mexican tomatoes to play out before Florida returns with any kind of volume.

Odell said Mexico’s production of field-grown mature greens is light and shipments should wind down by April 1, but strong shipments of romas should continue throughout most of the year.

While central Florida pickings normally start in mid-April, Odell said January planting delays should prevent the Palmetto-Ruskin region from having any volume until early May.

Any volume before that will have to come from south Florida, Odell said.
 
“Typically, March is a hard month to have a lot of tomatoes in Florida,” he said March 1. “In an average year, if you have iffy weather in January or early February that hurts your fruit set. It will be tough to have volume in March and it will be even tougher this year.”

Nighttime temperatures have consistently fallen into the low 40s and upper 30s — below the limit for fruit set. Tomatoes planted before the freeze, which normally would be harvested in early March, haven’t fully developed because of the cold, Odell said.

Odell said Florida shippers have been sending only 10-11 truckloads a day to out-of-state customers. Six L’s, which markets tomatoes packed by the Lipman Family Cos., doesn’t plan to ship any mature greens until around March 5.

Joe Pawlak, senior principal of Technomic Inc., Chicago, said he’s hearing a lot in the quick-service industry about the shortages.

“We are seeing many chains have signs saying they’ll provide tomatoes only if requested, or for a specific item ordered that would typically have tomatoes,” he said. “Some operators are moving away from tomatoes in the short term. Instead of offering a house salad with tomatoes, they may emphasize Caesar salads that typically don’t have tomatoes.”

Pawlak, a food industry consultant, said he’s seen similar actions in the past when other commodities such as lettuce ran short and forced restaurant operators to make adjustments to their menus.



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