The winter blues brought on by a glut of tomatoes from Florida and south of the border could give way to a bright spring and summer for California and Baja California grower-shippers.

With April came stronger tomato markets, said Mark Munger, vice president of marketing for San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce.

"We're actually seeing an improved market the past three or four weeks," Munger said April 27. "The winter market was a little sluggish. There were a lot of winter tomatoes from Florida and Central Mexico. And we're getting into barbecue season, which helps as well."

California tomato shippers project stable markets
        Courtesy Deardorff Family Farms

Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, Calif., is introducing 5-pound packs of romas and round tomatoes for club stores, says sales manager David Cook. The tomato shipping season should start around July 1, Cook says.

In addition, Munger said, reports of companies either maintaining or cutting acreage in Baja California this season should bode well for "fairly stable markets" as the deal progresses.

On April 28, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $9.95 for 25-pound cartons of 5x6 mature greens from Florida, down from $11.65-13.65 last year at the same time.

Twenty-five pound cartons of extra-large romas from Florida were $13.95-15.95, comparable to last year.

At the front end of Andrew &Williamsons' Baja deal in late April in the growing region of Vizcaino, production was normal and quality excellent on romas, vine-ripe rounds, grapes and cherries, Munger said.

Production in Vizcaino should peak in mid-May, he said. Organic roma production - up this year for Andrew & Williamson - is trailing behind conventional roma production by about two weeks.

Production will likely transition to the more northern Baja region of San Quentin about June 1, Munger predicted.

Oxnard, Calif.-based Deardorff Family Farms will roll out new 5-pound roma and round packs for the beginning of its tomato shipping season, which should start about July 1, said David Cook, sales manager.

The new packs, targeted for club stores, will bear the company's Highland Ranch label, Cook said.

"We're trying to get our name out there, move into some different channels and move some volume on some smaller sizes," he said.

Deardorff's tomato acreage is similar to last year, Cook said. And he doesn't anticipate any water problems.

"I keep getting asked about it (water availability), but it looks normal," he said. "It's not a huge problem right now."

Water also shouldn't be a problem for Ace Tomato Co. Inc., Manteca, Calif., said John Lupul, general manager.

But shortage fears should cause some growers to steer fresh acreage to the processed market this season, which could give a boost to fresh markets, Lupul said.

"I'm very optimistic for the upcoming season on pricing," he said. "I feel conditions should be favorable for California tomatoes in the marketplace."

Ace expects to begin shipping rounds and romas the first or second week of July, Lupul said. Some spring plantings were set back four or five days because of rain, but by the end of the month were back in track, he said.

Ace's acreage is similar to last year's, Lupul said.