(Dec. 30) Prices of Florida tomatoes are down because of their smaller size, which was caused by abnormal heat through Dec. 15.

As the Florida tomato deal finishes up in Palmetto and Ruskin, it is about one-third of the way through in Immokalee, which is right on schedule.

DiMare Inc., Homestead, finished harvesting in Ruskin Dec. 26 and started in Immokalee a few days before Thanksgiving. The week of Christmas, the company began running in Homestead, said Scott DiMare, farm manager.

Prices of Florida tomatoes are a little low, said Ed Angrisani, sales manager for Taylor & Fulton Inc., Palmetto; Tomato Man Inc., Immokalee; and Gulfstream Tomato Growers Ltd., in Homestead.

F.O.B.S

During the last week of the year, he said 25-pound cartons of extra-large tomatoes were selling for $8, cartons of large tomatoes were $7 and medium tomatoes were $6.

DiMare said the market has been pretty steady, low and fair. Last year, the average price of Florida tomatoes was $10, while this year it has been $6. The 5x6 market has been fairly active, but the size 6s brought a depressed market because there are too many 6x6s and 6x7s as a result of fall heat.

During the last week of December last year, 25-pound cartons of U.S. No. 1 or better 5x6s went for $16, 6x6s were $13 and 6x7s were $10. U.S. No. 2s went for f.o.b.s of $14-14.50 for 5x6s, $11-11.50 for 6x6s and $8-8.50 for 6x7s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The holidays disrupt the normal flow of picking and packing of tomatoes, Angrisani said. The fruit continues to grow while the buying and selling lags behind because no one wants to work, he said.

Everyone buys in advance, DiMare said. So during the holidays everything shuts down and trucks are tough to find. This season, the weather has been tough, too.

VOLUME

Volume is moderate, Angrisani said. Overall acreage is slightly down because over the past few years many companies have gone out of business. Angrisani said there are fewer than 100 Florida tomato growers now.

DiMare said volume in Immokalee and Homestead has been normal, with movement of 350,000 25-pound cartons a day.

Fall weather in Florida was unseasonably warm, with temperatures eight to 10 degrees above normal, DiMare said. As a result of the warm weather, the size of the fruit is smaller because it spent less time on the vine, he said. In Ruskin, the yields also were down 25% because the heat caused bloom drop.

Optimum growing temperatures are mid-70s during the day and mid-50s at night, DiMare said.

The weather began to cool off around Dec. 15, and the size in Immokalee has since gotten bigger. In Homestead, as the weather has become cooler and drier, size and tonnage have improved, DiMare said.

Statewide 60% of the crop is extra-large, 25% is large and 15% is medium, Angrisani said.

During the past two to three weeks, the tomatoes have been excellent, Angrisani said. This batch was planted after the rainy season earlier in the fall.

“Tomatoes are as good as they get for this time of year in Florida,” he said.