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.
“We finally have a variety we are happy with on the growing side, on the handling side and on the flavor profile,” Feighery said. “It’s something that holds up well through the distribution chain. It has the flavor characteristics of high sugar content.”
Feighery said golden grape tomato volume increased by 40% over the past year.