The U.S. Department of Agriculture is exempting imported Vintage Ripe tomatoes from Florida’s tomato marketing order shape requirements.
Effective Oct. 5, the USDA in the Federal Register provides a partial exemption from the minimum shape standards for imported heirloom tomatoes grown and marketed by Six L’s Packing Co. Inc., part of the Immokalee, Fla.-based Lipman Family Cos.
The USDA in April issued a final rule amending the rules under the order exempting the heirloom tomatoes shipped in the U.S. domestic market from the shape requirements. The new USDA rule, published Sept. 4, formally exempts imported Vintage Ripe tomatoes.
Skip Jonas, field compliance officer for the Florida Tomato Committee, Maitland, which administers the federal marketing order governing Florida-grown tomatoes, said the change is a normal USDA housekeeping measure that requires the agency to apply the same rules required of domestic-grown tomatoes to imports.
Jonas said he wasn’t sure of heirloom tomato production, but said only two major companies, Lipman and Procacci Bros. Sales Corp., Philadelphia, actively grow and market heirloom tomatoes. Procacci, which markets its heirloom tomatoes as Ugly Ripes, won exemption in 2007.
Heirloom tomatoes are known for their misshapen appearance with deep and ridged shoulders.
In its rule, the USDA notes that heirloom-type tomatoes have been gaining favor with consumers and that Vintage Ripes were specifically bred to meet growing demand.
Because the tomatoes have difficulty meeting established shape requirements and because of their higher production costs, “producing these tomatoes for market may not be financially viable without an exemption,” the USDA said.
The USDA notes, however, that the Vintage Ripe tomatoes are only exempt from the shape requirements of the grade and must still meet all other aspects of the U.S. No. 2 grade.