Tomatoes seek boost in summer

05/11/2012 08:33:00 AM
Andy Nelson

Andy Nelson, Markets EditorThe transition from winter to spring didn’t register as much as it usually does in the U.S. this year, thanks to abnormally warm winter weather.

The same could be said for tomato prices, which were low most of the winter, then low for the first several weeks of spring.

Increased acreage in Mexico and perfect growing conditions in Florida and Mexico are among the reasons for the tomato industry’s version of the same ol’ same ol’.

Tomato marketers yearning for stronger markets are now turning their hopes to summer.

For many tomato lovers, the first tomato deal that shouts “summer” is what is typically regarded as the first domestic vine-ripe deal out of the chute: Arkansas.

Some fruit should ship by late May, and by early June consumers should start seeing volumes of Arkansas tomatoes on retail shelves.

Grower-shipper Randy Clanton, owner of Hermitage, Ark.-based Randy Clanton Farms, said the combination of low prices and ever-higher input costs is reaching a breaking point for many growers of U.S. tomatoes.

“Selling tomatoes at below production costs is not the reason we planted,” he said.

“Growers across the country are facing a situation, whenever this happens, where it’s tough to stay (in business). Farmers need to have a fighting chance.”

Because it’s a niche deal, and because it comes at a time when retailers and consumers are primed for domestic summer vine-ripes, Arkansas is better off than other domestic harvests, Clanton said.

“I’m glad Mexico’s not our competition,” he said.

Safeguards

There are other ways in which Arkansas has helped insulate itself from some of the woes that can befall tomato markets, said Gary Margolis, president of Gem Tomato & Vegetable Sales Inc., Boca Raton, Fla., marketer of Arkansas-grown Triple M tomatoes.

For starters, Gem and other marketers of Arkansas tomatoes hedge their bets by committing a substantial chunk of their crop to retailers in advance, providing protection from the whims of the f.o.b. market, Margolis said.

Also, the growth in popularity of locally grown deals over the past several years has benefited Arkansas.

“With local increasing over the years, there’s no need to be everything to everybody,” he said.

At the same time, Margolis said, smaller deals like Arkansas have to resist the temptation to let success get to their head, with growers chasing an easy buck and recklessly increasing acreage.


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