Tomato growers hope deal turns around

05/18/2012 10:52:00 AM
Jim Offner

Tomato growers and shippers in California and Baja California, Mexico, say they are hoping for the best after seeing the worst, as their crops approach harvest for this season.

“Everything is looking very bleak at the moment,” said Caesar Muratore, general sales manager of DiMare Newman, Newman, Calif., which is the lone grower in the Coachella Valley.

The situation has been dire for months, Muratore said.

“There hasn’t been a dime made since November,” he said.

Abundant supplies are the culprit, he said.

“Oversupply controls the retail, and, if it wasn’t for fast food and stuff like that, they wouldn’t be moving any tomatoes,” he said.

DiMare was scheduled to start its season with a four-week deal in Coachella in early May and move on to production areas to the north.

“We should have a nice even flow until early November,” Muratore said, adding that growers in California’s San Joaquin Valley anticipate an early June start.

“Everybody is cautiously optimistic, but they’re also down in the mouth,” Muratore said.

On May 14, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that two-layer cartons of 4x4 greenhouse- and field-grown tomatoes were selling for $9-10.

A year earlier, prices were $12.95-14.95.

“That’s a tough thing to predict,” said Jeff Dolan, DiMare’s field operations manager.

Last year, freezes cut into production from numerous production areas in the U.S. and Mexico, but growers have had no such problems this year, Dolan said.

“We had a little hot spell in mid-April, but it’s nothing huge and insurmountable, and that’s it,” he said.

Last year, California’s tomato production slipped 3% year on year, to 11.9 million tons on 30,000 to 40,000 acres, according to the USDA.

In all, Mexico’s production was about 2 million tons, and about 1.66 million was exported. Production volume for this year is forecast at about 12.7 million tons for California and 2.3 million for Mexico.

Rain and hail have hit a couple of areas in California’s San Joaquin Valley, but the crop came through those events without any problems, said Louie Bigileri, salesman with Pasadena, Calif.-based Sun Pacific Shippers.

“We’re hoping June 15 for our start and will continue with steady production through October on rounds and romas,” he said.

Perhaps prices will rebound by then, he said.

“There were just too many on the market and prices were depressed,” he said.

Production already had started May 1 in the Vizcaino area of Baja California, said Mark Munger, vice president of marketing with San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce.

It’s a key part of the season for the year-round supplier of Baja tomatoes, he said.

“Vizcaino is strategically important because it gives us these important fall and spring production times,” he said.

Brian Bernauer, sales director with Oceanside, Calif.-based Fresh Pac International, said he had seen the new crop during the last weekend in April.

He said the first shipments appeared to be on schedule for the second week of May.

“The crop looks tremendous on romas and cherries,” he said.



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