Florida tomato season opens with late start, smaller volumes

12/02/2011 12:55:00 PM
Doug Ohlemeier

PALMETTO, Fla. — After enduring later-than-normal starts, buyers should expect smaller Florida tomato volume.

Doug OhlemeierBob Spencer (left), vice president and sales manager of West Coast Tomato Inc., Palmetto, and Terry Harris, salesman, on the packing line running mature greens in early November. This year’s Florida tomato deal started later than normal and is bringing lower than usual volume. Because of heavy rains and excessive heat that struck during the early parts of the central Florida deal in September and October, season volume is running 7-10 days later than usual.

Gerry Odell, chief operating officer of farming and packing for Lipman, Immokalee, said buyers should expect to see regular volume in early December.

“Things are getting better,” he said in mid-November.

“The quality and volume will be normalized once we hit the first week of December. Our packouts are decent. We don’t have a lot of size yet. I would say we have a more even distribution of sizes now. We’re not running heavy to the extra large at this point.”

Some Immokalee growers began spot pickings in early November before south Florida production typically starts in mid- to late November, Odell said.

He said Florida’s true window, when central and south Florida production ship promotable volume, typically begins around Thanksgiving.

Odell said demand began to build after central California finished its mature-greens harvesting, and though Mexico started moving some volume of romas and hothouse tomatoes across the border, west Mexico hadn’t started yet in mid-November, and Sinaloa production is scheduled to start in late December.

Tony DiMare, vice president of the DiMare Co., Homestead, which has operations in Ruskin, said the season opened with disappointing production.

He said yields suffered a 30% decline.

“Yields and packouts have been below-normal,” he said in late November.

“The heavy rains and heat made for bad settings. The tomatoes picked this week and what will be picked next week will continually get better. Quality and sizings should progress going forward into December.”

DiMare said buyers should expect volume from Palmetto-Ruskin in early December.

He said business finally began increasing after California finished and Canada’s greenhouse industry began winding down.

In mid-November, DiMare characterized opening season mature-green tomato prices as near typical.

In late November, however, prices increased as the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Nov. 16 reported 25-pound cartons of loose mature-greens 85% U.S. No. 1 or better selling for $14.95 for 5x6s, 6x6s and 6x7s, up from the $13.95 for 5x6s, $12.95 for 6x6s and $11.95 for 6x7s it reported a week earlier.

East Coast Brokers and Packers Inc., Mulberry, ended its Virginia harvests in late October and began Florida production in early November, about two weeks later than normal, said Batista Madonia Jr., vice president of sales and operations.

Madonia said tomato plants look healthy, and, despite lower overall yield, said buyers should expect high quality fruit.

“At this point, things look to be a normal deal,” he said in early November.

“It has been a very hard and expensive crop to grow, but it looks like a good crop. The quality is even better than last year.”

Wimauma-based Red Diamond Farms, a division of Tomato Thyme Corp., began entering full production in late November.

Michael Lacey, director of sales and marketing, said the grower-shipper expects to ship major volume during the first weeks of December.

“The early season rains affected fruit size and did have an overall effect on the field, but we are recovering very quickly,” Lacey said in late November.

“The second set is there and it’s producing. The quality is excellent. We are getting really great brix levels from the grapes, the heirlooms and the Tasti-Lees. The flavor profile is incredible.”

Bob Spencer, vice president and sales manager of West Coast Tomato Inc., said he looks for a typical season.

“We won’t experience bumper yields, but should have decent crops,” he said in early November.

“We have been able to grade our fruit and we have decent quality, so we’re pleased with that.”

Because of more variable weather and growing conditions, Spencer said fall harvesting normally produces lower yields than the state’s spring crops.

West Coast started harvesting mature-greens Oct. 20, about 10 days later than usual. It began its romas Oct. 24.

Spencer said he expects quality to improve each week as the harvest is further distanced from the September and October rains.

J.M. Procacci, chief operating officer of Plant City-based Ag-Mart Produce Inc., which does business as Santa Sweets Inc., and chief operating officer of Procacci Bros. Sales Inc., Philadelphia, said growers endured an unfavorable growing season.

“This past year has probably been the worst year we have had growing anything anywhere,” he said.

Procacci said north Florida suffered through drought and cold temperatures while central and south Florida sustained too much rain.



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