(April 21) PALMETTO, Fla. — Volumes on early harvests of central Florida’s spring tomato crop will be affected slightly by a virus, according to growers.

Because of warm weather, growers have seen an increase in the silverleaf whitefly, which has resulted in a higher than normal incidence rate of tomato yellow leaf curl virus.

Bob Spencer, sales manager of West Coast Tomato Inc., said the Ruskin-Palmetto growing region went through the winter without a freeze, which allowed the whitefly population to flourish. The whitefly is the carrier of the yellow leaf curl virus.

ISOLATED

Phyllis Gilreath, extension agent with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science in Manatee County, said infected plants normally have irregular ripening and are destroyed.

Gilreath said the problem is isolated to older plants that were planted in January and infestation varies by location.

“We’re going to have good quality again this spring,” Spencer said, “but there may be less of them because of the virus. Probably 20% of our early crop is affected.”

Joseph Esformes, managing partner of Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd., said his company’s first harvests from the region will begin the last week of April, and the virus is not a problem.

Esformes said higher volumes of mature greens, romas and grape tomatoes would begin around the first week of May.

Spencer said harvests were running about a week behind normal because of cool weather in the last month.

PRICES

On April 20, the f.o.b. price on 25-pound cartons of mature green tomatoes U.S. No.1 or better 5x6 and 6x5 sizes was $15.20, which is $2 more than late March. The price on 6x7 size was up $4-5 per carton at $13.20.

Flats of 12 1-pint baskets of cherry tomatoes were up slightly at $10.20, while grape varieties were steady at mostly $11.20-12.20.

Prices on 25-pound cartons of romas extra-large size were $15.20-16.50 and large sizes were mostly $14.20. Medium-sized romas were mostly $12.20-13.20.