Fresh tomato shipments from Florida will likely remain very light at least through April, grower-shippers said.

Florida tomato volumes to remain light

Yields continue to be light in the Immokalee, Fla., area because of continued cool weather that followed winter’s devastating freezes, said Bob Spencer, vice president and sales manager of West Coast Tomato Inc., Palmetto, Fla.

Cooler temperatures also will likely push back the starting date of the Palmetto and Ruskin tomato deals by two or three weeks, to the first half of May, Spencer said.

“Volumes are still extremely light out of Florida,” he said. “It’s been an interesting growing season. No one who’s been involved in this for a long time can remember it being this cold for this long.”

Barry Stein, a salesman for Palmetto, Fla.-based Taylor & Fulton Packing LLC, said April 13 it was difficult to predict what would unfold in the coming weeks.

“We’re in a very light harvest position, and we expect it to continue for at least the next four weeks,” Stein said. “It’s difficult to make a judgment on when volumes will pick up.”

Quality, however, was good the week of April 12 and should continue to improve as spring progresses, Stein said.

Markets would not likely come down much from their mid-20s level the week of April 12 until volumes increase dramatically, Spencer said.

Stein said demand for Florida tomatoes seemed to be picking up the week of mid-April. What effect that could have on price, though, is uncertain.

“It’s difficult to tell whether there will be any changes,” he said.

On April 13, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $25.95-27.95 for 25-pound cartons of loose mature-greens 5x6, 6x6 and 6x7 from Florida.

Last year at the same time, 5x6 were $15.95, 6x6 were $13.95 and 6x7 were $9.95-11.95.

On the buyer side, Milford, Conn.-based Doctor’s Associates Inc., which owns the Subway chain of sandwich shops, did not expect tomato supplies to return to normal for at least the next two weeks, said Les Winograd, spokesman.

“For both peppers and tomatoes, it was more of a supply issue than one of cost,” Winograd said April 12. “ With tomatoes, we opened our purchasing to additional varieties of tomatoes and began an earlier transition to other growing regions. We expect the tomato supply to return to usual levels by the end of the month.”