A slow start to new-crop Florida production and continued weather-related problems in Mexico put a dent in tomato volumes and size at the beginning of spring.

In the second half of March, Homestead, Fla.-based The DiMare Co. was beginning to see the effects of a February cold snap on its Immokalee, Fla., tomato crop, said Tony DiMare, vice president.

"Yields are starting to fall, size was down last week, and it"s down again this week," DiMare said March 24, adding that warm March weather also was having effects.

"We"re basically having March weather in April."

Rain and hail in Mexico and light production during the Florida transition led to a demand exceeding supplies in the second half of March, said Chuck Weisinger, president and chief executive officer of Fort Myers, Fla.-based Weis-Buy Farms Inc.

"Right now it"s extremely light," Weisinger said March 24. "The quality"s good but there"s not enough to cover the bases. This time of year is normally Mexico"s time, but there hasn"t been anywhere near enough as there should have been."

On March 24, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $10.95 for 2-layer cartons of 4x4 and 5x5 vine-ripe tomatoes from Mexico, down from $12.95-14.95 last year at the same time.

There should be plenty of pent-up demand for new-crop tomatoes when regions of the U.S. hit hard by winter finally thaw out, Weisinger said.

"There were 108 inches of snow in Boston. Some people spent the winter hunkering down. I think people want to get out and do things and eat lots of fruits and vegetables."

The warm weather has pushed production up in Immokalee, DiMare said, with double plantings some weeks.

The decline in size profile was pushing up prices for extra-large fruit in the second half of March, DiMare said.

The effects of the February weather will likely be felt the week of March 23 and the week of March 30, DiMare said.

Homestead, Fla., supplies were expected to be steady for The DiMare Co. through the week of March 23 before tapering off dramatically beginning the week of March 30, DiMare said.

The DiMare Co. expects to begin shipping grape and cherry tomatoes from the Palmetto/Ruskin areas of Florida about April 10, DiMare said. Romas and rounds should follow about April 17-20.

Volumes should be back to seasonal norms the week of April 6 or the week of April 13, Weisinger said.

A flooded grape tomato market at the end of March would likely continue into April, DiMare said.

"There are tremendous volumes out of Mexico. They"ve been at the floor price for a good part of the season."

Roma prices, meanwhile, were coming down in late March, DiMare said, as Mexican growers moved into new crops following a period of rain-plagued winter fruit.