Tomato prices to stay highTomato markets will likely stay hot until California and East Coast production ramps up.

Tomato prices could stay high through June, said Chuck Weisinger, president and chief executive officer of Fort Myers, Fla.-based Weis-Buy Farms Inc.

"Demand right now is phenomenal," Weisinger said June 16. "Florida is extremely short and the quality out of Mexico is just fair. It"s been very hot in Culiacan. We"ve been careful what we load."

On June 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $13.95 for 25-pound cartons of medium, large and extra-large tomatoes from California, up from $5.95-7.95 last year at the same time.

Mature green 5x6 cartons from Florida were $15.95, up from $10.95-11.95.

Quality Mexican romas have been more plentiful than vine-ripes, and some buyers have begun accepting romas in lieu of vine-ripes, Weisinger said.

Homestead, Fla.-based DiMare Co. finished its Florida season June 16, said Tony DiMare, the company"s vice president.

DiMare Co. wrapped up its Coachella Valley, Calif., deal in early June and began shipping from the state"s Central Valley the week of June 9, DiMare said.

Even with deals in Quincy, Fla., South Carolina and Arkansas starting by mid-June, tomato markets will likely stay tight into July, DiMare said.

"Demand has remained pretty good, and supplies all over, particularly in the East, are light."

Eastern production may not put a dent in prices until New Jersey, Ohio and other Eastern homegrown deals ramp up in late July or early August, DiMare said.

Production in Virginia should begin about July 1 with grapes and cherries, with rounds and romas following July 4-9, slightly later than normal, said Butch Nottingham, marketing representative with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Nottingham reported good growing weather and said growers look forward to brisk movement of a high-quality crop.

Acreage in Virginia dropped significantly when Mulberry, Fla.-based East Coast Brokers and Packers Inc. stopped growing in the state, Nottingham said.

But with Del Monte Fresh Produce NA Inc., Coral Gables, Fla., growing tomatoes in Virginia in 2014, acreage is up over last year, he said.

About 2,400 acres of tomatoes were harvested in Virginia in 2013, down from 3,100 in 2012 and 4,600 in 2011, according to the USDA"s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

In the West, Central Valley production should begin to ramp up by mid-July, DiMare said.

By mid-June, the Ruskin/Palmetto Florida deals had wound down and production in Quincy, Fla., and Beaufort, S.C., was just getting started, Weisinger said.

And some growers in those areas did not expect bumper crops, he said.

On the West Coast, California production also was just getting going in mid-July, with one grower starting production the week of June 9 and "a handful" more June 16, Weisinger said.

Until Arkansas and other local deals ramp up, it will be a seller"s market, Weisinger said.