Frigid temperatures and the anticipation of Mexican volumes factored into Florida tomato grower-shippers’ expectations for markets, which were strong for large sizes at the beginning of January and weak for smaller fruit.


As of Jan. 5, the cold had not had devastating effects on tomatoes, said Ed Angrisani, partner with Taylor & Fulton Packing LLC, Palmetto, Fla. But a forecast of temperatures in the 20s the weekend of Jan. 9-10 worried him.


“We’re trying to pick enough ahead of the cold so if the worse happens we’ve saved what we can,” Angrisani said Jan. 5. “We’ve survived so far.”


By the first week of January, shipments from the Palmetto/Ruskin growing area were winding down, said Chuck Weisinger, president and chief executive officer of broker Weis-Buy Farms Inc., Fort Myers, Fla.


Continued cloud cover the week of Jan. 4 could save crops in Southwest Florida from serious damage, but Palmetto/Ruskin was “really suspect,” Weisinger said Jan. 4.


“We’re keeping our fingers crossed, hoping it doesn’t get any colder,” he said.


Crops were not being harvested Jan. 4 because the temperature did not get above 50 degrees, Weisinger said.


Tony DiMare, vice president of the Homestead, Fla.-based DiMare Co., said the cold weather may not be going away anytime soon. Another freeze was forecast for tomato growing regions in mid-January, he said Jan. 5.


On Jan. 5, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $16.95-17.95 for 25-pound car-tons of 5x6 loose mature greens from Florida, up from $6.95-7.95 last year at the same time. Size 6x7s were $6.95-7.95, up from $4.95-5.95 last year.


Markets the first week of January were reasonably good, with fair movement, Angrisani said. Whether they strengthen or weaken in coming weeks could be determined by the weather and another wild card — Mexico.


“It all depends on what Mexico does, and there’s no way to predict,” he said. “We’re always reacting to what they do. It’s a real hard way to do business.”


Demand was strengthening the week of Jan. 4, Weisinger said. Boxes of 4/5s that were selling for $10 Jan. 1 were $13 Jan. 4.


“I think (prices) will get better,” he said. “It will be a buyer’s market for most of the week.”


Prices varied widely based on size, though, Weisinger said. Demand was very strong for large tomatoes, weak for small ones.


DiMare agreed, citing prices as low as $4 for boxes of medium fruit and as high as $16 for extra-larges.


The week of Jan. 4, heavy volumes of romas and grape tomatoes were shipping from Mexico, and round shipments were beginning to pick up steam, he said.