(April 24) Spring rains in the San Joaquin Valley have slowed tomato planting, but some grower-shippers in Southern California and hothouse growers expect a normal to record season.

Tomatoes in the valley are expected to be later than usual because of frequent rains.

Dean Janssen, general manager for grower-shipper Ace Tomato Co. Inc., Manteca, Calif., said the company was behind on planting.

“We’re now just barely getting in the ground,” Janssen said April 17. “We’ve had 40 days of rain since March 1.”

PRICES

It is too early to report California tomato prices in mid-April, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported f.o.b.s April 17 were $12.85 for a two-layer flat of 4x4 to 4x5 vine-ripes from Mexico.

In 2005, prices for Mexican vine-ripes spiked early in the week of April 11, increasing from $14.85 to $22.85-24.85 in one week because rain and bad weather created lower yields in Mexico and Florida.

Twenty-five-pound cartons of loose 5x6 mature greens, 85% No. 1 or better, from central and south Florida were $12.45 on April 17, according to the USDA. On April 12, 2005, f.o.b.s were $19.20-21.20.

Janssen said Ace was 200-300 acres behind in planting its Merced, Calif., fields. It planted 50 acres March 24-25, but unseasonably cool weather had slowed growth.

Ace typically plants about 3,000 acres of field-grown tomatoes with 17 million to 18 million transplants.

The sun was shining April 17, and he said he hoped to begin planting locally April 24, where planting would typically begin in mid-March.

Janssen said he expected Ace’s production to be late, but the volume to be normal.

“There will be very few tomatoes that will be packed in the state of California in the month of June,” Janssen said.

Ed Beckman, president of the California Tomato Commission, Fresno, agreed that tomatoes would be late this season because the spring has been tough for many field growers, though not all of them.

Three million to 5 million cartons of tomatoes are typically produced in California in June, Beckman said.

“There’s no chance of that happening this year,” Beckman said.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Grower-shipper Deardorff-Jackson Co., Oxnard, Calif., should have a typical season, said David Cook, sales manager.

About 80% of its tomatoes are vine-ripened beefsteaks and the remainder are romas. All are field grown in Ventura County, Cook said.

Cook declined to release his company’s acreage, but he said the volume of production would be the same as last year.

Cook said he, too, expects June tomato supplies to be light.

He expects volumes to even out over the season.

Luawanna Hallstrom, chief operating officer for grower Harry Singh & Sons, Oceanside, Calif., said she also expects a normal growing season.

Singh usually produces about 1,000 acres of tomatoes and about 4 million 28-pound boxes, she said.

The rain has not been a problem and Hallstrom said she expects to harvest tomatoes from early June through mid-December.

HOTHOUSE TOMATOES

Casey Houweling, president and owner of Houweling Nurseries Ltd., Delta, British Columbia, said his company grows hothouse tomatoes in Oxnard.

Recent rains and clouds have not affected the company’s production because skies were often clear during the critical period of Januaryand February, when light levels are typically low.

Houweling said he expects record production this year, though he planted 85 acres, about the same as last year. The good winter weather, new varieties and more experienced growers should add up to a larger yield.

Pricing has been slightly lower than this time last year, but the volume has increased enough to compensate, Houweling said, although he did not provide details.

Houweling Nurseries is the primary supplier of tomatoes to The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia, Houweling said.