Tomato market off to strong start

08/26/2013 03:32:00 PM
Tom Burfield

Harry Singh Jr.Tom BurfieldHarry Singh Jr., owner of West Coast Tomato Growers in San Diego, says size and quality of the company’s roma tomatoes were looking good in mid-August. The firm has about 650 acres of round and roma tomatoes this summer, which are marketed by Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group.Tighter tomato supplies than usual as a result bad weather in the East and fewer plantings in Baja California have allowed tomato grower-shippers to reap higher prices than usual as the late summer/fall tomato deal kicks off.

Expo Fresh LLC, San Diego, had started picking in Baja California this year by early June, right on schedule, said Bob Schachtel, sales manager.

The company’s romas, vine-ripes and cherry tomatoes all were showing very good quality, he said in early August.

So far, prices have been exceptional, he said, largely because of hot weather and rain in the East.

“We’ve had a decent deal,” he said. “For August, it’s very good.”


Fall crop expectations

So far, it’s been a mild summer for Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce.

“We’ve been blessed with mild temperatures, which has given us excellent quality,” said John King, vice president of sales for the San Diego-based company with a growing operation in Baja California.

The moderate summer should help kick off a strong fall crop, as well, he said, with volume peaking from mid-October through November.

Nogales, Ariz.-based Bernardi & Associates has been “going strong since mid-April,” said president Joe Bernardi.

Quality this season on roma, round, grape and cherry tomatoes has been “really good.”

But volume is lower than past years, he said, because fewer tomatoes have been planted in Baja California, and there are fewer vine-ripes from the Oxnard area.

“That put more pressure on the Baja deal,” he said.

The firm has been able to fill its regular customers’ needs, he said, “but there hasn’t been much to sell beyond that.”

Prices

“We’ve seen higher-than-normal pricing for most of the summer out here,” Bernardi said, and he expected that scenario to continue through August.

Two-layer cartons of “adapted environment” vine-ripe tomatoes crossing at Otay Mesa in California were selling for mostly $14.95 for 4x4s, 4x5s, 5x5s and 5x6s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Aug. 13 A year earlier, they were $7.95-9.95.

United Greenhouse LLC, Santa Ana, Calif., sources all the major types of tomatoes from greenhouses and shade houses in Baja California, said Cameron Purcell, marketing director.

“Demand has been really good this year,” he said, adding that volume has been steady and quality has been good.

In Southern California, West Coast Tomato Grower, Oceanside, was reaching peak volume the second week of August, said Aaron Quon, greenhouse and vegetables category director for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, which markets the company’s product.

Picking started in early July and should continue until the third week of November.

“The tomato market in general has been very good,” Quon said.

The company grows mostly round tomatoes on poles and complements that deal with a few romas.
Volume should be 50% higher than last year – and will continue to increase in future seasons, Quon said.


'Strange' season

Tim Biggar, salesman for the Carlsbad, Calif., location of Tom Lange Co., characterized this season as “a little bit strange.”

As a broker, he’s not impressed with the higher prices tomatoes are selling for.

He attributes some of the tight supply to the possibility that coastal fog and cooler temperatures in Baja California growing areas may be slowing down the plants.

“They’re just not turning,” he said in early August.

He also said the tomato suspension agreement could be at least partially responsible for a drop in plantings.

“(Growers) knew that they were going to have to sell for more than they did with the old agreement,” he said. “They have to support higher prices. Consequently, they may have planted less.”



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