The seasonal uptick in volume of Mexican tomatoes crossing the U.S. border at Otay Mesa, Calif., should be under way by the start of September.
“Baja has been going since April,” Joe Bernardi, president of Bernardi & Associates, said Aug. 9 from the Turlock, Calif., branch of the Nogales, Ariz.-based brokerage.
“They slow down in August. Growers don’t plant as much knowing there will be homegrown garden tomatoes and regional production in the summer. They come back for the fall deal.”
Bernardi, whose company brokers round, roma and grape tomatoes from Baja California, Mexico, from April to December, said there have been no adverse weather issues to threaten the fall harvest.
“I expect good quality and volume,” he said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Aug. 28 that 25-pound cartons of loose roma tomatoes crossing from Mexico through Otay Mesa were mostly $14.95 for extra large and $12.95-14.95 for large sized tomatoes.
Prices for roma tomatoes from California's Central District were nearly the same, with 25-pound cartons mostly $14.95 for extra large and mostly $13.95-14.95 for large sized tomatoes.
Sales manager Ricardo Roiz said Frank’s Distributing of Produce LLC, Nogales, Ariz., started sourcing conventional and organic roma and heirloom tomatoes and organic round tomatoes from Baja California in June.
He said a higher-volume area in the south will ramp up production in mid-October and continue into mid-January.
Roiz said the company’s Baja California tomato crops are 60% organic and 40% conventional.
“We’re focusing more on organics,” he said. “We’re switching to organic more each year.”
Meanwhile, production also is underway on the other side of the border.
West Coast Tomato Growers LLC, Oceanside, Calif., started its harvest of romas and round tomatoes in July, and supplies are expected to last into November, said Karin Gardner, marketing communications manager for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, which handles sales and marketing for West Coast Tomato Growers.
Gardner said volumes remain fairly steady throughout the season, and demand has been excellent. In fact, she said West Coast has increased its roma production 50% to meet demand.
A decade ago, there were a handful of tomato growers in San Diego County, but now West Coast is the lone survivor, Bernardi said.
“The land has become too valuable for homes and other things,” Bernardi said, “and the increase in Baja production has changed the landscape.”
Although the Baja California deal is growing, Bernardi said growers on the Mexican side of the border also face challenges.
“Water is a big issue down there,” he said.
“They can only grow as much acreage as they have water for. Some of them have their own desalination plants.”
Bernardi said he expected Baja California also would face strong competition from California’s San Joaquin Valley.
“We have been going there since the second week of June and will continue until the first week of November,” he said.
Bernardi said hot summer weather in northern California led to below-average yields, but he said that by September he expected that issue to be resolved.
“I think we’ll see a good crop in northern California as well,” he said.