PALMETTO, Fla. — Severe fall heat has harmed early volumes of north and central Florida fall tomatoes.

Higher than normal October temperatures combined with humidity accelerated crop production on grape and cherry tomatoes, and excessive rains during growing periods after August and
September plantings damaged the first plantings and delayed promotable volume for central Florida rounds until close to Thanksgiving, growers said.

Heat cuts early Florida tomato volume

Doug Ohlemeier

Jaime Weisinger, director of sales and purchasing for Custom Pak, Immokalee, Fla., views some round red tomatoes running on the packing line.
Grower-shippers say extreme early fall heat may delay promotable volume from hitting until mid- to late November.
While prices have been low throughout the year, shippers say they expected the smaller early shipments and problems with October California shipments to help raise prices.

While prices have been low throughout the year, shippers said they expected the smaller early shipments and problems with October California shipments to help raise prices.

Jon Esformes, chief marketing officer of Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd., said continuous days of temperatures exceeding 90 degrees damaged early Quincy and Palmetto crops.

“I do not look for any amount of volume from either north Florida or the Palmetto-Ruskin deal until sometime between Nov. 20 to Dec. 1,” he said in mid-October. “What I saw of the tomatoes was a very, very light set on the vine up until the third string.”

Lower volume

Esformes said front end volume could be down by as much as 40%.

As northern producing areas were winding down production, central Florida grower-shippers in mid-October were beginning to pick light volumes of cherry and grape tomatoes.

Central Florida growers began picking light volumes of grape and cherry tomatoes in early October, a week earlier than normal.

Movement was picking up during the month and is expected to hit larger volume in early November, said Tony DiMare, vice president of the Homestead-based DiMare Co., which has production in the Palmetto-Ruskin region.

The unfavorable weather caused little damage to the early crops, though the middle and later plantings fared well, he said in mid-October.

If central Florida receives cooler weather and lower humidity, the early plantings can potentially make a crop, DiMare said.

Growers typically pick lighter yields during the front end of the fall season.

October and November cold fronts that move across the state dry the crop and start setting the tops of those plantings. Further removed from the September rains, the younger plantings typically improve during the cooler and drier weather, DiMare said.

Stable prices

DiMare said he expected prices to remain stable and perhaps increase after the end of Virginia and Michigan volume.

He quoted grape tomatoes hitting as high as $29 for 20-pound cartons.
“There are  not a lot of tomatoes on the East Coast,” DiMare said in mid-October. “That’s caused the markets to move up a little. By the time the Palmetto-Ruskin deal gets going, the California deal should be winding down fairly rapidly.”

Esformes in mid-October reported selling 25-pound cartons of loose mature greens for $14 for 5x6s, $12 for 6x6s and $10 for 6x7s from northern California before severe rains harmed that state’s volume.

That’s lower than these prices from central Florida the USDA reported in late October for 25-pound cartons of loose mature greens: 5x6s, $17.95; 6x6s, $15.95; 6x7s, $13.95.
On grape tomatoes from central Florida, the USDA in late October reported $12.95-13.95 for flats of 12 1-pint containers with lids.

Twenty-pound cartons of loose were $24.95-25.95.

Last year, in early to mid-November from central Florida, the USDA reported flats of 12 1-pint containers with lids sold for $16.95-17.95; 20-pound cartons of loose grapes sold for $32.95-33.95.

In 2007, the flats sold for $10.65-11.95 with cartons at $17.65-18.65.

Wishnatzki Farms, Plant City, planned to start picking its grape and cherry tomatoes in late October, with volume picking up during November.

“The tomatoes are good,” said Gary Wishnatzki, president. “We have had good growing weather.”
Wishnatzki grows 50 acres of grape tomatoes and 25 acres of cherry tomatoes.

Florida growers planted fewer acres this season.

According to the USDA, plantings for fall harvest were reported at 7,300 acres, down 2.6% from last fall’s 7,500 harvested acres, but down only slightly from the 7,400 acres growers harvested in 2007.

According to the Florida Tomato Exchange, Florida growers packed 47 million 25-pound boxes during the 2008-09 season, up from 45 million boxes in 2008-09.

Prices averaged $8.13 a box compared to $13.71 for 2007-08.

Northern Florida production in Quincy begins in October and runs through Thanksgiving.

Central Florida volume normally runs through Christmas, while south Florida volume in Immokalee typically begins light shipments in early and mid-November with volume hitting in early December.

Homestead production usually starts after Christmas with promotable volume hitting Jan. 1.