(June 19) As the North American tomato industry continues to rebound from the Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak, demand should be strong for new-crop tomatoes from Virginia’s Eastern Shore, grower-shippers and industry officials said.

Eastern Shore growers should start shipping about July 1, right on time, said Butch Nottingham, regional market development manager for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Richmond.

East Coast Brokers and Packers Inc., Plant City, Fla., should begin packing July 1-4, predicted Batista Madonia Jr., vice president of sales and operations. The company’s 4,000 acres in production is up slightly from last year, he said.

Now that the outbreak scare is passing, Nottingham believes consumer demand for tomatoes will be strong coming in to the Eastern Shore deal.

People who have been eating tomatoes their whole lives without incident, he said, won’t stop because of one outbreak.

“We’re looking forward to a good year,” he said. “I grew up in a tomato-growing area, and I’ve not known of anyone to have salmonella (from eating tomatoes), and I’m 58.”

Madonia agreed demand should be strong as the Eastern Shore deal starts.

“In the past week, as we’ve seen McDonald’s and other restaurants get back in, you can feel a surge in desire for tomatoes,” he said.

Madonia expected a seamless transition as shipments from South Carolina wind down. He also expected the Eastern Shore deal to benefit from soaring fuel costs, with more customers on the East Coast looking for product closer to home.

On June 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $17.65 for 25-pound cartons of mature greens 5x6 from Florida, up from $8.45 last year at the same time.

Growers will continue planting into August, Nottingham said, with shipments ending around the state’s first frost. Acreage should be similar to last year, with a similar mix of rounds, romas, grapes, yellow grapes and cherries, he said.

Nottingham said quality should reflect the excellent growing conditions Eastern Shore grower-shippers have enjoyed this spring.

“The weather’s been pretty much ideal,” he said.

Madonia reported excellent quality.