Florida tomato season brings low volume, high prices - The Packer

Florida tomato season brings low volume, high prices

12/04/2009 01:25:00 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

PALMETTO, Fla. — Florida tomato prices continued to skyrocket as lighter yields characterize this fall’s Florida tomato deal.
Grower-shippers say supplies are expected to remain well below normal through mid- to late December.
Because volume in mid- to late November was lower, shippers said they expected prices to remain higher than normal.

Tony DiMare, vice president of the Homestead-based DiMare Co., which has operations in Palmetto-Ruskin, said the deal started early but was slow in gaining volume.

Doug Ohlemeier

Workers grade mature green tomatoes running the packing line in late October at Taylor & Fulton Packing LLC, Palmetto, Fla. Lower than expected yields have caused prices to skyrocket.

DiMare said high winds associated with the Tropical Storm Ida, which rolled through the Gulf of Mexico along Florida’s Gulf Coast Nov. 6-9 before making landfall near Mobile, Ala., damaged blooms on late plantings in the Palmetto-Ruskin growing region.

“The later plantings are in excellent condition quality wise, but are with extremely light fruit set and below-average fruit size due to the well above-average day and nighttime temperatures,” he said Nov. 18.  “We will have very light supplies throughout the remainder of the Palmetto-Ruskin season. It has been one thing after another for this fall season.”

Shorter volume

Combined with bloom drop after severe fall heat, DiMare estimates central Florida mid-November fall tomato volume was down up to 50% from normal.

Buyers should expect more normal yields Dec. 10-15, said Chuck Weisinger, president and chief executive officer of broker Weis-Buy Farms Inc., Fort Myers.

“We are going to see a really crazy market,” he said in mid-November. “In the past, I have seen a kind of a slump between Thanksgiving and Christmas on tomatoes. This year could be a whole other story. It’s a really odd situation that has hit us. What a mess.”

During a normal fall season, Florida growers pack around 2,200 boxes to the net acre. This year’s packouts, however, could be as little as 1,000 boxes, Weisinger said.

Prices in early October started off at $16 for the large mature greens. Then dropped to $12.

They rose again, however, when buyers discovered volume wasn’t as plentiful as they had believed, said Bob Spencer, vice president and sales manager of West Coast Tomato Inc.

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