Rains the three weeks leading up to May 19 might put a dent in summer Arkansas tomato production, but growers still expect to begin shipping in the first week of June, about on time.
At least a foot of rain fell during that period in Southern Arkansas, said John Gavin, staff chairman of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service in Bradley County.
As a result of all that rain, as well as high winds, growers told Gavin that plants had 30-50% less fruit than usual for this time of year. And while fruit continues to set, it's too soon to tell whether late-season volumes will be affected, he said.
"We'll just have to wait and see if plants put fruit on top later," Gavin said. "The rains have hampered us. It will just take awhile to see what impact they've had."
Despite the rain, fruit quality looked "really good" as of May 18, said Gary Margolis, president of Gem Tomato & Vegetable Sales Inc., Boca Raton, Fla., marketer of Triple M tomatoes.
Also reporting excellent quality on fields that weathered the storm was Randy Clanton, owner of Hermitage, Ark.-based Randy Clanton Farms. The company expects to begin shipping light volumes about June 10, with normal volumes likely by about June 20, Clanton predicted.
The excessive rains increased disease pressures in Arkansas tomato fields, Gavin said. But Margolis reported very little disease pressure in Triple M fields.
Nevertheless, growers were expected to start shipping on time, in the first week of June, though early volumes could be lower, Gavin said.
Triple M expects to begin shipping about June 10, a typical start, with strong demand expected, Margolis said.
"There's a lot of interest - it seems to increase every year," he said. "We consider this to be the first local vice-ripe deal of the summer. Mexico's depressed right now, but we're looking forward to good promotions."
The expected slow start to the deal could benefit Arkansas growers, given the large number of late-season tomatoes shipping from Florida and corresponding weak markets, Clanton said.