(April 26) Florida’s tomato industry expected a good quality spring crop out of the Ruskin-Palmetto district, despite growing concerns about white fly and the tomato yellow leaf curl virus that it carries.

“When you have warm, dry weather — those are perfect conditions for insects,” said Phyllis Gilreath, extension agent for the University of Florida Manatee County Extension Service, Palmetto. “We’ll see some yield reduction.”

Gilreath and others said it was difficult to tell how significant the drop in volume would be. She said as much as 15% of the area’s plants could be affected.

Skip Jonas, compliance officer for the Florida Tomato Committee, Maitland, said the Ruskin-Palmetto district’s spring and fall crops represented about 45% of the state’s tomato production. It is the largest of the state’s four tomato growing areas.

Tony DiMare, vice president of DiMare Ruskin Inc., Ruskin, said there were “spotty replantings” of early plantings throughout the district. DiMare also said sizing would be down because of the warm, dry weather but that quality would be excellent.

Yellow leaf curl virus does not affect fruit that already has been set, but it prevents the plant from setting new fruit after the plant has been picked. Growers typically pick tomato plants two or three times a season.

Gilreath said white fly has been a problem in Florida for years, but the problem is more severe in the Ruskin-Palmetto district this year because winter temperatures weren’t severe enough to curb the population. Also, growers extended the fall season into January because of high market prices following last year’s hurricanes, allowing insects to move from the fall crop to spring plantings.

DiMare said growers have been discussing the need to set mandatory deadlines for the end of the seasons to eliminate that kind of overlap in the future.

“We all recognize you need to be cautious,” he said.

Harvests in the Ruskin-Palmetto district started in early April with cherry tomatoes and were expected to peak in mid-May, DiMare said. Memorial Day, which is May 29, is the last big push of the season, which wraps up in early June.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported April 25 that f.o.b.s for 25-pound cartons of loose mature-greens from Florida’s central and south districts were $11.45. Flats of 12 one-pint baskets of red cherry tomatoes were $9.45-10.45, while flats of lidded 12 one-pint containers of grape tomatoes were $14.45-15.45. Romas in 25-pound cartons were $15.45-16.45 for extra larges, $14.45-15.45 for larges and $13.45-14.45 for mediums.