Florida tomato prices are beginning to drop as a tardy winter-ravaged crop finally begins to bring promotable volume to the market.
 
The later starting central Florida deal is also expected to run longer than normal and overlap with the north Florida deal which starts in early June.
 

Prices fall as late-starting central Florida tomato volume ramps up

Doug Ohlemeier

After being damaged by January freezes and unfavorable growing conditions since, Florida's tomatoes in early May are beginning to return to volume. Central Florida's deal is running late and is expected to overlap with north Florida production.

After being damaged by January freezes and unfavorable growing conditions since, Florida's tomatoes in early May are beginning to return to volume. Central Florida's deal is running late and is expected to overlap with north Florida production.



While south Florida harvesting was winding down in early to mid-May, growers had started harvesting light volume in central Florida.
 
Tony DiMare, vice president of the DiMare Co., Homestead, Fla., said he expects promotable volume to begin in the Pal-metto, Fla.-Ruskin, Fla. region on May 20, about 10-14 days later than normal.
 
Central Florida normally begins light harvesting April 20-25 with volume hitting around May 10.
 
Most central Florida growers were either just getting started or preparing to start, DiMare said on May 11.
 
“There have been some rougher tomatoes (this winter) because of the wind and cold,” DiMare said. “But the Palmetto-Ruskin area has had very good growing weather the last couple of months. We will see some of the best quality tomatoes the state has had this year.”
 
While winter’s cold created a shortage of large-sized tomatoes, DiMare said the central Florida deal should bring an abun-dance of extra larges, the 5x6s.
 
Chuck Weisinger, president and chief executive officer of broker Weis-Buy Farms Inc., Fort Myers, Fla., said buyers should see a major shift in prices and that the market won’t settle until May 14-18.
 
“There is a wide range of prices this morning,” he said May 12. “There is a range as much as 30% in pricing. I think we are looking at a more stable market than we have had all winter. We will sell product like we do for more normal prices in the next month or so.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture in mid-May reported 25-pound cartons of loose mature greens 85% U.S. No. One or bet-ter from south Florida selling for $19.95 for 5x6s, $17.95 for 6x6s and $15.95 for 6x7s.
 
That’s lower than the $23.95 that the 5x6s sold for, $21.95 for the 6x6s and $17.95-$19.95 for the 6x7s the USDA reported on May 4.
 
For cherry tomatoes, the USDA reported flats of 12 1-pint baskets with lids from south Florida selling for $6.95-8.95, down from $9.95-11.95 reported on May 4.
 
On grape tomatoes, the USDA in late February reported $7.95-9.95 for flats of 12 1-pint baskets and $15.95-17.95 for 20-pound cartons of loose grapes.
 
In early May, the USDA quoted $10.95-11.95 for the flats and $19.95-21.95 for the cartons.
 
Romas sold for $13.95 for 25-pound loose cartons of extra large, $11.95-12.95 for large, and $8.95-9.95 for mediums, below the $14.95-15.95 for extra large, $13.95-14.95 for large, and $9.95-11.95 for mediums reported May 4.
 
Gerry Odell, chief operating officer of farming and packing for the Immokalee, Fla.-based Lipman Family Companies, which grows and packs tomatoes through Six L’s Packing Co. Inc. and Custom Pak, said he expects central Florida this season to have a bigger than normal overlap with Quincy, Fla.
 
“There is always some overlap (between the two areas), but the overlap will be excessive this year,” he said.
 
North Florida production normally starts in early June and runs through July 4.
 
Six L’s was moving to the Palmetto-Ruskin region on May 11 by first picking romas and starting rounds by May 15.
 
Odell said he expects volumes to begin peaking May 18-25.
 
“We should start to have some very good quality fruit (then),” he said May 11. “The roma quality is already coming up and the rounds will be much better than they have been.”  
 
Winter packouts have been low as packinghouses graded out many culls because of scarring and irregular shaped fruit, Odell said.
 
In mid-May, Six L’s and DiMare were still harvesting limited volumes from the Immokalee and Naples, Fla., regions.
 
Odell said Six L’s planned to shift production to Palmetto-Ruskin the week of May 17.