(March 30) PALMETTO, Fla. — Early yields will be slightly lower, but Florida tomato growers say there will be ample supplies and good quality out of the state’s central growing region this spring.

High spring temperatures have resulted in an increase of the silverleaf whitefly, which has led to in a slightly above-average incidence rate of tomato yellow leaf curl virus.

"When you don't have a freeze, you don't kill off the white fly," said Bob Spencer, sales manager of West Coast Tomato Inc. "We'll just have to see how it pans out in the next month or so."

Phyllis Gilreath, an extension agent with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science office in Manatee County said the virus causes irregular ripening. Infected plants are destroyed.

"It's fairly widespread," Gilreath said, "but the incidence rate varies from area to area. Most of the younger tomatoes look good and it seems to be isolated to older plants that were planted in January."

Joey Poklemba, sales manager for Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd., said the virus was not a major problem.

"It's nothing out of the ordinary," Poklemba said. "It's maybe 2% to 5% that's affected at the most."

Harvests in the Ruskin-Palmetto area generally begin in late April and could benefit from a stronger market if yields are slightly lower.

In late March, the f.o.b. price on 25-pound cartons of mature green tomatoes U.S. One or better 5x6 size was $13.20. Cartons of 6x6 size were down slightly from earlier in the month to $11.20, and 6x7s were off as much as $3 less at $8.20-9.20.

Flats of 12 1-pint baskets of cherry tomatoes were $8.20-9.20, while grape varieties were mostly $12.20. Prices on 25-pound cartons of romas extra-large size were down $3 from $13.20, while medium sizes were $9.20, which was $2 lower than the early March figures.

Harvests of all varieties in the Immokalee growing region in the southern section of the state are under way.


Meantime, yields on the Immokalee bell pepper and squash crops will be lower in April due to adverse weather conditions.

"We had some wind-scarring on cucumbers, and squash was affected because the pollination by bees wasn't working early on," said Brian Arrigo, sales manager of Southern Corporate Packers Inc., Immokalee.

Harvests on the company's 500 acres of cucumbers are expected to begin the second week of April, and squash will run for about another six weeks, Arrigo said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, f.o.b.s on 1 1/9-bushel cartons of medium size cucumbers were mostly $14.85-16.85 in late March.

Prices on 1/2-bushel cartons of small size zucchini squash were mostly $6-6.85, while cartons of small size yellow straightneck squash were mostly $10.85.

The squash market is expected to stay strong for a while as shipments from Mexico come to a close, Arrigo said.

Supplies of beans from south Florida are strong and harvests will continue through the third week in April.

"Prices have dropped off some," said Emilio Mirzakhani, general manager of sales of the Homestead Pole Bean Cooperative Inc. "Some growers north of us (Georgia) had some beans, plus we came with a good volume of beans. The demand dropped off and the supply was more."

In late March, f.o.b. prices on bushel cartons and crates of pole beans had dropped about 40% from earlier in the month to mostly $8-8.85. Prices on wax beans were steady at mostly $16-16.85 per carton.

Supplies and quality of celery and leafy items are good but the market has dropped in recent weeks.

"We've hit the doldrums," said Dolphus Broxton, sales manager for vegetables at A. Duda & Sons Inc., Belle Glade. "The market has been depressed the last couple of weeks on celery especially due to California starting."

The f.o.b. price on 2-dozen cartons and crates of celery was mostly $6.75, while 3-dozen size was mostly $8.75. In early March the f.o.b.s were about 50% higher.