(June 28) Good weather should yield plenty of high-quality tomatoes from the Eastern Shore of Virginia, grower-shippers and industry officials said.

Heavy rains late in the growing season were not expected to hurt supplies.

Weak prices could rise by the time the deal rolls around in the first half of July, some said.

Palmetto, Fla.-based Taylor & Fulton Inc., which has an office in Parksley, Va., should begin harvesting on the Eastern Shore about July 9, about two days earlier than normal, said Ed Angrisani, sales manager.

“Right now, everything looks good,” he said. “It’s been a little bit on the cool side, with a fair amount of moisture, but nothing extreme.”

Eastern Shore tomatoes should be available at retail by the second week in July, said Butch Nottingham, regional market development manager for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Onley.

If yields are similar to last year, Eastern Shore growers will harvest about 1.9 million cwt. in 2006, Nottingham said.

The crop could exceed $100 million in value, up from about $90 million last year, Nottingham said.

As it does most years, the 2006 Eastern Shore deal will run through September, Angrisani said. Florida’s fall tomato deal typically begins in earnest in October.

Angrisani said Taylor & Fulton’s Quincy, Fla., tomato deal should end on schedule, about July 8, clearing the decks for the Eastern Shore deal.

But a smooth transition from Florida to Virginia won’t necessarily translate into a stronger market, he said.

“We keep hoping we’ll catch a market we can make some money in, but it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere,” he said.

Rain fell hard enough on the mid-Atlantic region in late June to shut down several government offices in Washington, D.C., and cancel Amtrak service to Philadelphia, but Angrisani said June 27 the tomato crop was weathering the storm.

“I don’t think it’s been a poison rain to this point,” he said. “Right now I think the crop’s still OK.”

What was on growers’ mind the last week in June, Angrisani said, was the size of the eastern shore crop. While quality looked good, quantity was another matter.

“Growers aren’t too wild about the number of tomatoes that have set,” he said.

On June 27, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $8.45 for 25-pound cartons of mature-greens from South Carolina, down from $11.20 last year at the same time.

About 14.3 billion pounds of tomatoes had been shipped nationwide through June 24, similar to last year at the same time, according to the USDA.

Growers should begin harvesting in the first week of July, Nottingham said. “It looks like we’ll be on time with great quality,” Nottingham said June 20. “It’s been a little cooler than normal, but here lately it’s been starting to warm up, with a lot of sunlight.”

Eastern Shore growers planted 5,000 to 5,500 acres of tomatoes in 2006, slightly fewer than last year, Nottingham said.