Doug OhlemeierTony DiMare, vice president of the Homestead-based DiMare Co., checks grape tomatoes running on DiMare’s Ruskin, Fla., packing line in early November. Heavy August and September rains and warm October and November temperatures kept tomato yields and sizes low, grower-shippers report.PALMETTO, Fla. — After a tumultuous fall which brought lighter volume on central Florida’s tomatoes, Florida grower-shippers are ramping up production.
Heavy August and September rains stunted yields and helped keep prices higher than normal throughout the early fall.
As late fall growing conditions become more favorable with moderated temperatures and lower humidity levels, growers report harvesting more volume.
Jon Esformes, operating partner of Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd., said fall yields were down 30% to 70% from normal depending on plantings but the Palmetto-Ruskin region was increasing supplies in November, he said.
“Palmetto-Ruskin will never be normal this year,” Esformes said in mid-November. “Barring any problems with Mother Nature playing her hand, retail and foodservice buyers can expect what they always expect from Florida, which is a steady supply of high-quality tomato products. As always in Florida, quality will improve as we get past the early season. We will have both consistent quality and supplies will improve.”
Because of continued warm October and November weather, Palmetto-Ruskin region volume was even lighter than earlier expected which kept yields light and sizings small, said Tony DiMare, vice president of the Homestead-based DiMare Co.
South Florida production, which typically begins by late November, is a different story.
“Those crops in Immokalee look good,” DiMare said in late November. “For the stage they’re in and in comparison to the early Palmetto-Ruskin crops, the early crops in Immokalee are much cleaner and have a little better set in terms of yield.”
The quality of the central Florida fruit is high, and late fall and early winter is when growers typically see their best quality tomatoes, he said.
Central Florida usually starts in early October with grape and cherry tomatoes and begins harvesting mature-greens by early November.
In November, growers were finishing harvesting of the smaller central Florida tomatoes, and sizing was improving, said Chuck Weisinger, president and chief executive officer of Weis-Buy Farms Inc., Fort Myers.
The smaller volume and sizings is bringing higher demand, Weisinger said.
“There will be national demand for Florida tomatoes this year,” he said. “I think we will be able to go to California with our tomatoes. Historically, demand between Thanksgiving and Christmas has always been flat. I think we’re going to be really surprised about the marketing and sales this year.”