Grower-shippers say tomatoes were delayed by about three weeks because of fall storms but supplies are now plentiful and quality high.
Grower-shippers say tomatoes were delayed by about three weeks because of fall storms but supplies are now plentiful and quality high.

Mexican tomatoes are plentiful in Nogales, Ariz., as spring approaches.

“There are too many romas in town now,” Johnny McDaniel, sales and operations director for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc., said Feb. 5.

“Everything’s coming at the same time, three weeks later than usual. People didn’t want to see it that way, but we knew it was coming.”

Late plantings or replantings prompted by heavy fall rains and winds created more of a problem for tomatoes than bell peppers, he said.

Palmetto, Fla.-based Pacific Tomato Growers is producing round, vine-ripened, grape and roma tomatoes out of Sinaloa under its Suncoast label.

“Quality is excellent and the crops are in good shape,” Jon Esformes, operating partner, said Jan. 30.

“We expect plentiful supplies of high quality tomatoes for the next 60-90 days.”

“The problems we had early on generated by the hurricanes and storms back in October slowed down the start of the Mexican deal through December and early January, but everything is in full production now,” Esformes said.

Field-grown romas in 25-pound cartons crossing at Nogales shipped for about $8.30 on Feb. 10, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The year-ago price — before the establishment of the U.S. and Mexico tomato suspension agreement — was about $6.

That agreement, finalized last March, is near its one-year anniversary.

“Even though there is a suspension agreement, we continue with expansion south of the border with greenhouse production,” said Fried DeSchouwer, president of Vero Beach, Fla.-based Greenhouse Produce Co. LLC.

“Our growers are expanding and new growers are entering the market. I see a 10% growth annually in greenhouse.”

Much of that is in central Mexico.

“It’s never fun to have an agreement like that, but I guess it’s necessary,” DeSchouwer said. “People have adjusted to it.”

Esformes still has concerns.

“The real tale on this suspension agreement has yet to be written,” he said. “That will be through the enforcement side. It’s important to monitor who’s abiding by it and who’s attempting to circumvent the agreement.”

“One of the negative effects involves the Canadian produce markets,” Esformes said. “We’re seeing at times tomatoes being sold at the minimum in the U.S. while product is sold very cheaply into Canada, below the suspension agreement price. We believe that’s not sustainable long term and will have a negative impact on those produce markets.”

Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Nogales-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, said the agreement’s consequences were acceptable in Nogales for the first year, when neither Florida nor Mexico had an overproduction problem.

“If you see buyers start pushing prices down under the $7 per box range, that basically means only Florida can be in the market unless the buyer wants to pay the minimum for (Mexico) tomatoes, which is above $8,” Jungmeyer said.

“If they suddenly could not sell their tomatoes here in Nogales, you’d have about a third of economic activity in this town put on hold. That would be a hard pill to swallow.”

“We’ve reached the floor on a lot of the varieties on an intermittent basis,” Mike Aiton, director of marketing for Coachella, Calif.-based Prime Time International, said Feb. 5.

“So it seems like it’s keeping some product in Mexico. Tomato prices are hovering now around or barely above the minimum.”