(June 21) Good weather should yield plenty of high-quality tomatoes from the Eastern Shore of Virginia, grower-shippers and industry officials said.

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.

On June 20, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported a price of $8.45 for 25-pound cartons of mature-greens from west Florida, down from $9.20 last year at the same time.

About 13.9 billion pounds of tomatoes had been shipped nationwide through June 17, up from 13.7 billion last year at the same time, according to the USDA.

T. Lee Byrd, vice president of Byrd Foods Inc., Parksley, Va., said early reports indicated the Eastern Shore deal had a good shot at finding a profitable market, though he added that good marketing windows were “hard to come by.”

Two things Byrd was more sure of were sizing and quality.

“We’ve had great weather, and everything’s on time,” he said. “The growers tell me the crop looks good. We’ll have good quality and typical size.”