(Nov. 20) PALMETTO, Fla. — Lighter-than-normal fall volume during the early part of the deal has helped push Florida tomato prices higher.

A hotter- and wetter-than-normal fall lowered early volume from the central Florida tomato deal.

Some packers said they expect to end the Palmetto-Ruskin deal early and begin south Florida pickings.

Early volume could be half as normal, said Chuck Weisinger, president and chief executive officer of broker Weis-Buy Farms Inc., Fort Myers.

“A lot of people all over the country have called us looking for product,” he said in mid-November. “Demand has gotten strong. Anything that looks like a tomato seems to be in good demand.”

Weisinger said he doesn’t think the state will have any amount of tomatoes until Nov. 28.

Earlier disease and virus problems that harmed central Florida plantings plus an abnormally long heat spell that ran into late October caused some bloom drop and harmed yields, said Tony DiMare, vice president of the Homestead-based DiMare Co., which has major packing operations in Ruskin. DiMare said he expects volume to be down 10% to 15%.

DiMare said he expected promotable volume from Palmetto-Ruskin to hit after Thanksgiving.

The severe heat didn’t allow crops to have heavy sets, said Joey Poklemba, sales manager of Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd.

“Our Palmetto crop should be quick,” he said in mid-November. “It will be in-and-out within three weeks, and then we will start in Immokalee.”

Poklemba said mature greens and romas could suffer yield losses up to 30% to 35% on the earlier plantings with fewer losses on the later plantings.

In mid-November, southwestern Georgia and northern Florida production also ended earlier than usual, growers said. The Quincy deal normally runs through Thanksgiving.

Prices in mid-November were twice as high over last season for rounds.

In mid-November from central Florida, 25-pound cartons of loose mature greens 85% U.S. No. 1 or better in 5x6s sold for $17.65-19.65, $16.65-17.65 for 6x6s and $15.65-17.65 for 6x7s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Romas from central Florida sold for $22.65-21.65 for 25-pound cartons for extra large with large sizes selling for $20.65-21.65 and mediums $19.65-20.65.

Last year, in late November, 25-pound cartons of loose mature greens 85% U.S. No. 1 or better from central and south Florida districts sold for $8.45-9.45 for 5x6s, $7.45-8.45 for 6x6s and $6.45-7.45 for 6x7s.

Romas sold for $16.75-17.45 for 25-pound cartons for extra large with large sizes selling for $15.45-16.45 and mediums $14.45-15.45.

The weather problems have also delayed south Florida volume.

While Immokalee normally starts running peak volume around Nov. 20, Gerry Odell, chief operating officer of farming and packing for Six L’s Packing Co. Inc., Immokalee, said he expects Immokalee volume this season to begin Dec. 10 or Dec. 15.

Strong demand, low volume buoy tomato prices
Joey Poklemba, sales manager for Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd., Palmetto, Fla., shows off mature-green tomatoes on the packing line in early November. Because of lighter than normal Palmetto-Ruskin volume, Poklemba says Pacific Tomato plans to end its central Florida volume by the end of November and switch to Immokalee production in early December.