PALMETTO, Fla. — The new season is bringing high-quality Florida grape tomatoes.
Florida grower-shippers began their newest season harvesting grape and cherry tomatoes in late October.
Grape and cherry tomatoes typically begin production in mid- to late October with romas and mature-greens usually starting a week later.
Promotable grape volume normally begins in early November.
Tony DiMare, vice president of the Homestead-based DiMare Co., characterizes early season quality as high and said the tomatoes being harvested possess strong color, size and firmness.
Still, early season rains in early and mid-October affected production.
“The early crops in central Florida I would say are normal to maybe a little below normal in production now due to the previous weather we had in mid-October,” DiMare said in mid-November.
Because of a poor 2011-12 season that brought lower than normal prices, DiMare said acreage has declined.
While grape tomatoes typically command higher prices than mature-greens and romas, this year in late October and early November prices were a little lower than normal.
DiMare attributed the lower prices to larger plantings by smaller growers.
He said the larger commercial operations likely remain stable in plantings but said a number of small operations that often go undetected increased plantings.
In late November, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported these prices for central Florida grape tomatoes: flats of 12 1-pint containers with lids marketed for $8.95-9.95 while 20-pound cartons of loose grapes sold for $16.95-17.95.
That’s lower than last year in late November when the USDA reported $12.95-13.95 for the flats and $23.95-25.95 for the 20-pound cartons.
Michael Lacey, director of sales and marketing for Wimauma-based Tomato Thyme Corp., said cherries, the smallest in terms of production type of tomato grown, are returning.
“They’re making a comeback,” Lacey said. “They’re doing very well. There is more acidity to the cherry than the grape but there’s still quite high demand for cherries. We are coming out with a new line of labels that will help promote the cherry and grape business.”
Demand remains strong for Plant City-based Santa Sweets Inc.’s golden grape tomatoes.
Santa Sweets tested the variety for more than six years and struggled to find a variety that worked well.
Last year, the grower-shipper found one, and the only thing slowing it down is finding enough seeds to plant for the volume desired, said Rick Feighery, vice president of sales for Philadelphia-based Procacci Bros. Sales Corp. and Santa Sweets.