NAPLES, Fla. — Last year was one of the worst years ever for Florida tomato growers and shippers.

Florida tomato industry weathers disappointing season

Brown

Reggie Brown, manager of the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Committee and executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, described market conditions during his yearly State of the Florida Tomato Industry address Sept. 9.

The annual report, during Florida Tomato Institute seminars that are part of the Florida Joint Tomato Conference, focused on production and demand issues that helped make the year a disappointing year for tomato sales.

Florida growers packed 47 million 25-pound boxes during the 2008-09 season, which ended in June, up from 45 million boxes the year before.

Prices averaged $8.13 a box compared to $13.71 for 2007-08. The value of crop plummeted from $616 million last year to $382 million this year.

“We had adequate supplies despite the weather events we had,” Brown said, referring to freezes that struck in January and February. “We had five weeks at under $5 a box. We were in a post-salmonella situation. We had the highest input costs we have ever seen, plus the great recession.

“Last year was just one for the record books. Hopefully, it is one we’ll never repeat again.”

Florida tomato industry weathers disappointing season

Doug Ohlemeier

Sandra Fischbein, vice president and national sales and marketing manager for vegetables for Speedling Inc., Nipomo, Calif., from left, talks with Tony DiMare, vice president of the DiMare Co., Homestead, Fla., during the Florida Tomato Institute meetings at the Florida Joint Tomato Conference in Naples on Sept. 9. At the yearly convention, which attracts people from throughout the tomato industry, participants heard about how disappointing demand crippled last season’s prices.

The tomato institute also included sessions on food safety and agronomic issues.

Also on Sept. 9, members of the Florida Tomato Exchange, which represents the state’s packers, the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange and the tomato committee elect officers for the coming season.