Tomato deal could make early appearance

03/02/2012 11:10:00 AM
Doug Ohlemeier

RUSKIN, Fla. — This year’s Florida spring tomato deal should bring high quality and volume.
Buyers should also expect an earlier-than-typical spring start, grower-shippers say.
However, grower-shippers have endured a double whammy of small losses from an early January freeze and low prices due to heavy early Mexican volumes.
Volume lighter than usual
Tony DiMare, vice president of Homestead-based DiMare Co., said Florida should produce lighter-than-typical volume until the middle of March, when he expects volume to pick up for Homestead and Immokalee spring crops.
He said the Jan. 3-4 freeze cut yields by up to 30% and that damaged fruit sets and cold winds harmed quality and knocked packouts by up to 20%. Packinghouses in February were packing those tomatoes damaged in the Jan. 3-4 freeze, he said.
Warmer-than-typical February growing conditions should help push Immokalee and Palmetto-Ruskin spring harvesting to start in early April, five to seven days ahead of normal, DiMare said.
“Quality will be excellent,” he said in late February. “We have had dry weather in Florida. Any time you have prolonged periods of dry weather, it will make for outstanding quality.”
Low winter prices
DiMare lamented low late winter prices.
In late February, he quoted $7.95 for 25-pound cartons of loose mature greens and said those prices were higher than early February, when f.o.b.s ran $3.95-5.95.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Feb. 28 reported 25-pound cartons of loose mature greens 85%  No. One or better from south Florida selling for $9.95 for 5x6s and $11.95 for 6x6s and 6x7s, higher than the $7.95 for 5x6s and $9.95 for 6x6s and 6x7s that the USDA reported in mid-February.
At the same time last year, the USDA reported f.o.b.s of $37.95 for 5x6s, 6x6s and 6x7s.
For cherry tomatoes, the USDA on Feb. 28 reported flats of 12 1-pint baskets with lids from south Florida selling for $6.95-7.95, down from the $24.95-25.95 last year in late February.
Grape tomatoes were pricing at $9.95-10.95 for flats of 12 1-pint containers with lids; 20-pound cartons of loose grapes sold for $18.95-19.95.
That’s lower than the $25.95-27.95 shippers received during the same period last year for the 12 1-pint containers and $49.95-50.95 for the 20-pound cartons.
Romas on Feb. 28 sold for $9.95 for 25-pound loose cartons of extra large, $8.95 for large, $7.95 for  mediums, and 6.95 for small. At the same time last year, f.o.b.s ran $29.95 for extra large, large and medium. 
‘A spring to remember’
Chuck Weisinger, president and chief executive officer of broker Weis-Buy Farms Inc., Fort Myers, said he expects light volume to persist until late March.
The cold weather didn’t harm quality, he said.
“Given the optimal conditions we have had so far, the quality here in Florida this spring will be pristine,” Weisinger said in late February. 
“We will be looking at a spring to remember for tastiness, flavor and size. ... Once we get past this bloom drop, we should be back to the same high quality we had before.”
Weisinger did say white flies and yellow leaf curl virus were affecting production.
Wm. P. Hearne Produce Co. LLC, Wimauma, has increased its grape and cherry tomato production and plans to begin harvesting in early April, a couple of weeks earlier than usual.
Jeff Williams, president, said the grower-shipper experienced a great spring but an okay fall. Because weather was warmer than typical, Hearne was able to pick 100% of the crop, unheard of in the fall deal, he said. 


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