Grower-shippers expect strong demand and outstanding quality when tomatoes begin shipping from the Eastern Shore of Virginia in early July.

East Coast Brokers and Packers Inc., Plant City, Fla., expects to being shipping about July 4, right on time, said Batista Madonia Jr., vice president of sales and operations.

The company’s South Carolina deal is expected to wind down in time for a smooth transition to the Eastern Shore, Madonia said.

“South Carolina will be done the last week of June,” he said. “There should be a supply gap between deals to clean the system out.”

Billy Heller, chief executive officer of Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd., Palmetto, which ships only cherry tomatoes from Virginia, also expected a smooth transition from its early-summer deal to Virginia.

“It looks like there will be a nice even flow from Georgia to Virginia,” he said. “We’re excited to get a start in early July.”
The smooth transition from South Carolina, combined with ideal growing conditions, should ensure brisk movement, Madonia said.

“We’re going to have phenomenal quality,” he said. “Summertime is the time to eat tomatoes.”

Heller agreed.

“Demand should be good because the quality’s so good,” he said. “The first couple of plantings are coming on quite nicely.”

On June 16, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $21.95 for 25-pound cartons of 5x6 mature green rounds from Florida, up from $17.65 last year at the same time.

Flats of 12 1-pint baskets of cherry tomatoes from Mexico were $16.95, down from $18.95-20.95 last year.

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Also, Madonia said, with the recession and memories of low prices still fresh in growers’ minds, acreage could be down this year, which bodes well for demand.

“We’ll probably see a decrease in supply, which should give us a good strong market,” he said.

The company’s Eastern Shore crop is similar in size to last year’s — about 4,000 acres. About 70% of that is round acreage, 20% roma and 10% cherries, also similar to last year, Madonia said.

Pacific Tomato Growers’ cherry acreage also is unchanged this season, Heller said.