Fresh tomato supply eases back to norm

05/20/2011 12:35:00 PM
Dan Gailbraith

Tomato buyers can breathe a sigh of relief now that a winter and early spring marked by freezes, high prices and tight supplies are over.

Warm weather and blue skies should result in ample supplies of high-quality, reasonably priced product this summer, grower-shippers in California and Baja California say.

San Diego-based Expo Fresh LLC was on track to start its cherry tomato deal in mid-May, followed by romas June 1 and vine-ripes by mid-August, said Bob Schachtel, sales manager.

San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce had begun the first phase of its Baja deal by late April, said Mark Munger, vice president of marketing.

The company was hitting its full stride by the second week of May.

The firm kicked off its Baja California deal in Vizcaino, Mexico, and will harvest there until early July, when it will source from San Quintin, Mexico. The deal will return to Vizcaino and La Paz, Mexico, in the fall and then move to central Mexico to provide year-round availability, Munger said.

Nogales, Ariz.-based Bernardi & Associates, which has a location in San Diego, started loading cherry, roma and grape tomatoes from Baja California in late April, company president Joe Bernardi said.

Not all varieties were picking every day, but daily production should be under way by late May, he said.

Quality is very nice, Bernardi said, and sizing on early romas was good.

Growers reported no problems with the Baja deal, other than cooler-than-normal temperatures, which delayed harvesting by a couple of weeks in some areas.

On May 3, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that two-layer cartons of size 4x4 and 4x5 greenhouse and field-grown tomatoes were selling for mostly $10.95.

Red Rooster Sales, Firebaugh, Calif., will be one of the first California companies to start shipping tomatoes, said Jack Corrigan, sales manager.

Corrigan says he expects to start on schedule around June 5 and continue through October. The company grows roma and mature-green tomatoes.

As of early May, the Central California growing area had not experienced any weather problems except for some below-normal daytime temperatures.

Corrigan expects May temperatures to rise, however, and quality and sizing should be good, he said.

Red Rooster grows all of its own tomatoes using drip irrigation, he said, and should see an increase in volume over last year.

Oxnard, Calif.-based Deardorff Family Farms expects to start picking sometime between mid- to late July, sales manager David Cook said.

“This year, I’d say earlier rather than later,” Cook said.

About 75% of the company’s volume is round tomatoes, and 25% is romas, he said.

Cook said he hopes for a better year than last season, which he characterized as “a weird year” with below-normal temperatures that caused the tomatoes to hold back.

When the crop finally came on, it was all at once in September and October and ended early in November.

“It was not much of a deal. There never was a very good market,” he said. “It was very disappointing.”

Bernardi & Associates experienced some planting delays in California, but Bernardi expects warm weather in May and June to help the plants catch up.

“We’re probably looking at a start time in Central California of about June 15-20, which is normal,” he said.

Quality should be good, Bernardi added.

The company offers mostly round, mature-green tomatoes packed in 15-pound cartons from its California growing area.

Vine-ripes, which the company sources from Mexico, typically are packed in two-layer cartons with some color already on the vine, he said.

Foodservice buyers usually buy more mature-greens, he said, while retailers like vine-ripes, but that’s not written in stone.



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