(Sept. 22) A hot July is coming back to haunt tomato markets, with prices soaring because of severe shortages in California that could extend into October.

Supplies in Tennessee, Virginia, North Carolina and Michigan also are lower than usual for this time of year, and the aftereffects of Tropical Storm Ernesto could delay the start of Florida’s fall deal.

On Sept. 19, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $27.45 for 25-pound boxes of extra-large rounds from central California, up from $13.20 last year at the same time.

About 35 million pounds of tomatoes shipped nationwide Sept. 10-16, down from 54 million pounds the same week in 2005, according to the USDA.

September tomato supplies are about 80% lower than normal at Expo Fresh LLC, San Diego, said Bob Schachtel, sales manager. And the quality of the tomatoes the company is able to ship isn’t great, he said.

“Glorified No. 2s is all we have,” he said. “We won’t start to have any good supplies until mid-October.”

The shortage can be traced to a West Coast heat wave in July that pushed temperatures into triple digits, often for several days running.

The heat severely stressed tomatoes that were in the early growing stages, Schachtel said. The heat also accelerated the growth of some tomatoes, pushing deals up, said David Cook, sales manager for Deardorff-Jackson Co., Oxnard, Calif.

Deardorff-Jackson had a normal supply of high-quality vine-ripe tomatoes to ship in September, Cook said. The company’s tomatoes weren’t hit as hard by the heat, and because vine-ripes are staked, they don’t absorb as much extra heat from the ground, he said.

Because other growing areas were so short of other varieties, demand for vine-ripes began to spike in early September, Cook said. As of Sept. 21, the company had enjoyed two weeks of strong pricing.

“I’ve never seen it so short for so long,” he said. “I have to pinch myself that prices are still this high. It’s an unbelievable market.”