Steady as she goes for the fall California/Baja tomato crop - The Packer

Steady as she goes for the fall California/Baja tomato crop

08/19/2009 02:57:43 PM
Lance Jungmeyer

Tomato volumes from California are entering full-swing mode, with steady supply expected until late November.

Tomato imports from Baja California, meanwhile, are on summer recess, not projected to kick back in until October. They will last through the end of the year.

As bigger volumes get under way in September, Bill Wilber, president and director of marketing for Oceanside Produce Inc., Oceanside, Calif., said he expects a good crop. “In the field, it looks like they’ve done everything right,” he said.

As of Aug. 10, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $7.95 for 25-pound cartons of mature-green medium, large and extra-large rounds from Central California, up from $5.65-7.65 last year at the same time.

Twenty-five pound cartons of large and extra-large romas from Central California were $8.95, up from $8.65 last year at the same time.

Acreage for California is down significantly, perhaps as much as 20%, said Ed Beckman, president of California Tomato Farmers, Fresno, which represents a good chunk of the industry.

The reductions have been driven by a lack of water, as well as simple economics following tomatoes undeservedly being implicated in a salmonella scare last year and the current state of the economy, Beckman said.

Still, Jeff Dolan, field operations manager for DiMare Newman, Newman, Calif., is optimistic about the season, adding that it appears to be progressing “normally or better than normal.”

DiMare is selling round mature-greens, romas and yellow tomatoes.

For DiMare’s overall program, acreage is about the same as last year, with volumes projected to last until early November. “I’m more confident in our locations. I anticipate us having a good fall,” Dolan said.

In early August, Dolan characterized the markets as poor. “The market is predicated by what happens on the East Coast and in southern California. Now, they’re producing well,” he said.

John Lupul, general manager of Ace Tomato Co. Inc., Manteca, Calif., agreed, but said that East Coast weather conditions will affect quality down the stretch. While he said the markets have not been profitable so far, he expects a turnaround as fall progresses.

In particular, the roma market should trend upward as August progresses and less Mexican fruit is on the market.

Additionally, Lupul characterized roma plantings across California as down about 20%. Ace Tomato cut its acreage 10%, he said.

“I think the late summer, early fall deal will be good,” he said. “We hope for demand to pick up from early to mid-September.”

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