IMMOKALEE, Fla. â Slowly recovering from devastating freezes that brought their packings to a halt and colder-than-normal growing weather since, Florida tomato grower-shippers donât expect to return to seasonal volume until April.
Tony DiMare, vice president of the DiMare Co., Homestead, Fla., views some mature green tomatoes going through washing before entering the packing line in early February.
A series of nights in early and mid-January when temperatures fell below freezing for prolonged hours destroyed fields of mature green tomatoes in Immokalee, Floridaâs primary winter tomato growing region, and increased prices.
The freeze not only destroyed winter volume, but buyers should expect rough times for spring shipments which normally begin in Immokalee in mid-March and in central Florida in early to mid-April.
Tony DiMare, vice president of the DiMare Co., Homestead, said Immokaleeâs spring crop likely wonât start until the end of March or into early April.
Central Florida growers held back planting until the January freezing weather passed and thus delayed Palmetto-Ruskin spring plantings by at least two weeks, which means that regionâs spring deal wonât likely start until late April.
âIt will be April â maybe mid-April â before we see any appreciable volume from Florida,â DiMare said in late February.
Unfavorable growing conditions throughout the state since the freeze also have slowed plant growth.
DiMare said tomato growers havenât had one solid week of warm growing weather since the January freezes.
âWe need warm sunshine to grow these crops out,â he said in mid-February. âUntil these weather patterns change, I donât see anything changing anytime soon. If we donât get favorable weather on the very youngest plants, they will struggle to pick even close to normal crops.â
Jon Esformes, chief marketing officer for Pacific Tomato Growers Ltd., Palmetto, said he expects a short spring crop.
âWe donât anticipate any amount of tomatoes much before April 15,â he said in late February. âThe tomatoes are not getting set and we wonât get the yields out of it. The whole state is getting pushed back.â
Higher grape tomato prices
Gerry Odell, chief operating officer of farming and packing for the Lipman Family Cos., which grows and packs tomatoes and vegetables through Six Lâs Packing Co. Inc. and Custom Pak, said prices began firming up in early February.
He said heavy Mexican volume was keeping roma prices low.
Mature green supplies
Supplies of mature greens, however, remain small.
âFruit set will be inconsistent,â Odell said in early February. âThere will be inconsistent light pickings on acreage that had fruit set before the freeze where the plants were not actually killed by the cold weather. They will go ahead and make some tomatoes. Itâs hard to predict what the volume will be but it should be very light. The reality is it will probably be April 1 before we get a head of steam.â
While Homestead and East Coast growing areas didnât sustain as serious damage as Immokalee, Odell said those areas produce few mature greens.
Six Lâs has grapes and cherry tomatoes grown in warmer East Coast areas that survived.
The first flowers on mature greens that opened after the freeze were starting to set some fruit in early February, Odell said. Those plants require six weeks from flowering to harvest.
Wm. P. Hearne Produce Co. LLC, Wimauma, was transplanting its tomatoes in early February.
Tony Piedimonte, co-owner, said the grower-shipper plans to begin harvests of its grape, roma and cherry tomatoes in early May.
âWe are optimistic for a good market,â Piedimonte said. âLast fall, grapes were good on price while romas were OK.â
Piedimonte said central Florida tomato growers fought heat and disease last fall.