Tomato growers in the San Diego/Baja California growing areas say quality is outstanding this summer. Their only problem is there are too many tomatoes in the North American pipeline.
“You’ve got product everywhere,” said Danny Uribe, sales manager for San Diego-based Pinos Produce Inc., which grows tomatoes in Baja California.
Tomatoes are available in Washington, Oregon, Tennessee, on the East Coast and in Ontario and Toronto, he said.
“There really haven’t been any orders for back East to speak of,” he said. “We’ve really have been kind of shut out this year.”
“The weather has been good everywhere, so local production has been good,” said Dick Keim, marketing coordinator for West Coast Tomato Growers in Oceanside, just north of San Diego.
“Everybody’s back yard that has a couple of tomato bushes in it is doing well.”
Keim said ample supplies have led to modest prices.
On Aug. 12, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said f.o.b. prices for two-layer cartons of adapted environment vine-ripe tomatoes crossing through Otay Mesa near San Diego were $6.95-8.95 for sizes ranging from 4x4s to 5x6s. A year before, prices were mostly $14.95 for all sizes.
Transportation costs also have thrown a monkey wrench into the works, Uribe said.
“Freight is just ridiculous,” he said.
The cost to ship a box of tomatoes to the East Coast is $4-5 or more, he said.
Then there’s the drought in California and Baja California.
“There are critical water issues for the fall for all of Baja,” Uribe said.
Pinos likely will have enough water to make it through the season, but the company won’t be putting in more shade houses for a while.
Last year, when water was plentiful, the company shipped about 9 million boxes, Uribe estimated. This year, he anticipates volume in the 6 million to 7 million range.
“It is going to be down,” he said.
Water is always a critical concern, Keim said.
“We’re fortunate to have adequate wells to take care of our property at the present time,” he said in mid-August. But he was concerned about the future.
Growers are hoping the El Niño conditions that some forecasters have predicted actually will turn up this winter, and they hope to see a heavy snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.
Still another challenge is increasing competition from growers in mainland Mexico, who seem to be harvesting earlier every year, Uribe said.
“As a rule, October and November are pretty good months,” he said. But that is beginning to get a little iffy.
“You used to have gaps in this industry between seasons,” he said. “They’re very few now, if any at all.”
Despite the challenges, growers still are excited about the quality of this year’s tomato crop.
“Growing conditions have been ideal,” said John King, vice president of sales for San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce, which grows tomatoes in shade houses and greenhouses in Baja California. “It’s been a really mild start to the summer.”
The season got off to a rough start because of high temperatures for San Diego-based Expo Fresh LLC, which also sources from Baja California, said Bob Schachtel, sales manager.
“We had a little problem, but since then it has been fine,” he said.
Expo Fresh should ship about the same volume of vine-ripe, roma, cherry and grape tomatoes as it did the past couple of years, he said. The deal should run until December.
Quality has been superb, Uribe said.
“How they’ve done it, I don’t know, but we’ve had wonderful vine-ripes and romas,” he said. “It’s been incredibly good quality. I hope that continues into the fall.”