Tomato prices expected to rise after summer glutTomato shippers look forward to stronger demand following a glut of regional summer production.

Long-sluggish markets were overdue for a change, Chuck Weisinger, president and chief executive officer of Fort Myers-based Weis-Buy Farms Inc., said Sept. 8.

"They"ve been cheap for so long, I"m optimistic about them going up."

That had already started to happen with Mexican romas, Weisinger said, with markets jumping from $8 per box in August to $17 in September.

"There was finally a little rain in Mexico. There hasn"t been very much bad weather around."

Rain elsewhere would likely put a dent in other tomato supplies, Weisinger said.

"It will eventually rain on the California coast. It always does."

Also, as backyard garden harvests started to decline, more U.S. consumers began returning to the supermarket for their tomatoes, Weisinger said.

"We"ve seen a little bit more movement this week than last week. We should see much better demand a week from now."

On Sept. 9, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $5.95 for 25-pound cartons of medium, large and extra-large mature greens from California, down from $9.95-13.95 last year at the same time.

Production in Quincy, Florida, would likely begin about the week of Sept. 22, Weisinger said.

Gary Margolis, president of Gem Tomato &amp Vegetable Sales Inc., Boca Raton, Fla., agreed with Weisinger that markets had little choice but to go up.

"Prices can only go one way. This is one of the worst marketing environments in my 30 years in the business."

About the only part of the U.S. that didn"t enjoy excellent growing weather and, in some cases, record yields this summer was the Benton Harbor, Mich., crop marketed by Gem, Margolis said.

Battling wet spring growing conditions isn"t something he"d wish on anyone, but with the glut of product nationwide this summer, it was a silver lining, Margolis said.

"We had erratic production and far lower yields in Benton Harbor, and the reality is, it was a blessing because there"s been such an overabundance of tomatoes."

Even in California, which is battling severe drought, tomato production has been robust, Margolis said, though he agreed with Weisinger that markets would strengthen as regional domestic deals started to wind down in September.