After a year that saw some of the lowest tomato prices in 30 years and two hurricanes in Baja California, a promising fourth quarter has greenhouse and shade house growers looking forward to a more prosperous 2015.
“It’s been challenging for tomatoes because pricing has been exceptionally low,” said Doug Kling, senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Lake Mary, Fla-based Village Farms Inc., which grows 108 acres of hydroponic tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers under glass in Delta, British Columbia, and 150 acres in Texas.
In addition, some of the field conditions that weren’t favourable last year, particularly in Florida, were very favourable this year, he said, and the bumper crop put downward pressure on prices.
David Bell, chief marketing officer of Houweling’s Tomatoes, based in Delta and Camarillo, Calif., said a perfect storm of good growing conditions continues in many parts of North America, making it harder to get prices up.
“We’ve seen a continued increase in acreage in B.C., California, Ontario, Mexico and everywhere in between,” he said.
With the market flat, and the tomato on the vine becoming the new mass market tomato, Kling said growers need to look for more unique items, such as Village Farms’ mini San Marzano.
Growers also need to offer new products to different generations and ethnic groups and cater to North America’s growing Hispanic and Asian markets, Kling said.
Mike Aiton, director of marketing for Coachella, Calif.-based Prime Time International, knows about storms, having lost a significant portion of his fall crop during the October hurricanes in Baja.
“It left a big void for everybody, and colored peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers were very high-priced,” Aiton said.
As volumes for greenhouse peppers out of Mexico’s Sinaloa state pick up, Aiton said things are returning to normal.
“When everybody gets going in earnest, they’ll be coming into a hungry market,” Aiton said.
He expects a normal-sized crop and stable prices after Jan. 1.
Despite low temperatures in central Mexico, Diego Ley, general manager of Nogales, Ariz.-based Del Campo Supreme, said he expects increasing volumes of tomatoes in January.
Cucumbers, meanwhile, are enjoying a growth spurt.
Kling said Village Farms has doubled its area of greenhouse cucumbers in the Permian Basin area of West Texas.
For the third year in a row, Aiton said Prime Time has increased its acreage and production of regular field cucumbers grown under shade cloth near Culiacan in Sinoloa, Mexico, with harvesting continuing until May.
“We have cucumbers loading with peppers,” said Aiton.
Ricardo Crisantes, vice president of sales and marketing for Nogales-based Wholesum Family Farms, said he’s excited by the resurgence in organics, and pleased to be offering year-round cucumber production in northern Mexico for the first time.
After comparing prices at U.S. terminal markets, Alfredo Diaz, CEO of the Mexican Association of Protected Horticulture, said protected cucumbers and bell peppers increased an average of 3% in the past year while tomato prices decreased an average of 3%.
Diaz said more Mexican growers are turning to protected agriculture to increase yields and escape the increasingly unpredictable weather.
Bell said Houweling’s 125 acres of tomatoes under glass in California would require 3,000 field acres to produce the same volume a year.