PALMETTO, Fla. — After a tumultuous fall which brought lighter volume on central Florida’s tomatoes, Florida grower-shippers are ramping up production.
Heavy August and September rains stunted yields and helped keep prices higher than normal throughout the early fall.
As late fall growing conditions become more favorable with moderated temperatures and lower humidity levels, growers report harvesting more volume.
Jon Esformes, operating partner of Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd., said fall yields were down 30% to 70% from normal depending on plantings but the Palmetto-Ruskin region was increasing supplies in November, he said.
“Palmetto-Ruskin will never be normal this year,” Esformes said in mid-November. “Barring any problems with Mother Nature playing her hand, retail and foodservice buyers can expect what they always expect from Florida, which is a steady supply of high-quality tomato products. As always in Florida, quality will improve as we get past the early season. We will have both consistent quality and supplies will improve.”
Because of continued warm October and November weather, Palmetto-Ruskin region volume was even lighter than earlier expected which kept yields light and sizings small, said Tony DiMare, vice president of the Homestead-based DiMare Co.
South Florida production, which typically begins by late November, is a different story.
“Those crops in Immokalee look good,” DiMare said in late November. “For the stage they’re in and in comparison to the early Palmetto-Ruskin crops, the early crops in Immokalee are much cleaner and have a little better set in terms of yield.”
The quality of the central Florida fruit is high, and late fall and early winter is when growers typically see their best quality tomatoes, he said.
Central Florida usually starts in early October with grape and cherry tomatoes and begins harvesting mature-greens by early November.
In November, growers were finishing harvesting of the smaller central Florida tomatoes, and sizing was improving, said Chuck Weisinger, president and chief executive officer of Weis-Buy Farms Inc., Fort Myers.
The smaller volume and sizings is bringing higher demand, Weisinger said.
“There will be national demand for Florida tomatoes this year,” he said. “I think we will be able to go to California with our tomatoes. Historically, demand between Thanksgiving and Christmas has always been flat. I think we’re going to be really surprised about the marketing and sales this year.”
In late November, central Florida harvesting was going well for Santa Sweets Inc., Plant City, which started South Florida harvesting.
“The crops look great,” Rick Feighery, vice president of sales for Philadelphia-based Procacci Bros. Sales Corp. and Santa Sweets, said in late November. “It’s a bumper crop for sure. There will be plenty of tomatoes for Christmas and New Years.”
Wimauma-based Tomato Thyme Corp., planned to finish harvesting Quincy round reds and grape tomatoes in late November and increase central Florida production.
“The quality has been really good and the brix is turning out well,” Michael Lacey, director of sales and marketing, said in early November. “Our Sarasota farm looks good and is right on schedule. The supply is plentiful.”
During the 2012-13 season, Florida tomato growers packed 35.5 million 25-pound equivalent cartons of mature-green tomatoes, down from 38.1 million packed in 2012-13, said Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Exchange.
Because the U.S. Department of Agriculture discontinued releasing tomato acreage, information is not available on the upcoming season’s plantings, said Skip Jonas, field compliance officer for the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Committee.
Though acreage fluctuates, Jonas said it’s likely similar to the most recent survey in 2011, which reported Florida growers planting 32,000 acres.