Expect changes in summer tomato movement as Mexico’s relationship with California and the U.S. is in the midst of a dramatic realignment.
Florida tomato industry leaders participating in the recent Joint Tomato Conference received a California view of tomato production and the challenges their counterparts are experiencing.
As he does at nearly every Florida fall tomato conference, Ed Beckman, president of California Tomato Farmers, Fresno, provided an update on the Golden State’s tomato industry during the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange annual meeting Sept. 8 in Naples, Fla.
The opening of Delta, British Columbia-based Windset Farms’ Santa Maria, Calif., greenhouse tomato operation is heating things up along central California’s Interstate 5 corridor.
The spring closing of Oceanside Pole Tomato Sales Inc., Oceanside, Calif., a major vine-ripe operation, could also affect the deal, Beckman said.
Where will that production focus? Will shipments remain throughout California or move more into the Rocky Mountains and Midwest?
A bigger change could involve transformation of Mexico’s tomato market.
Mexican consumption patterns are changing with an increase in greenhouse roma tomatoes and fewer rounds, Beckman said in a late September interview.
He said the formerly pro-round retail markets now favor romas and that the proliferation of romas grown by smaller Mexican greenhouse growers is depressing Mexico’s market.
Beckman said one day in late August saw 250,000 cartons of romas cross the U.S. border.
Mexican retailers have marketed romas for 10 cents a pound.
As California once exported many rounds to alleviate the Mexican rounds shortage, supermarkets now focus on romas.
California, which grows primarily rounds, once had an 80% Mexican retail market share and used to send a couple of million cartons a year across the border. That traffic has been reduced to a trickle.
Baja California, once the leading summer production region, now faces stiff competition from central Mexico.
Never a factor during the summer until recently, McAllen, Texas, is also seeing more crossings, Beckman said.
He said that gateway offers transportation advantages for distribution to Middle America.
Add a number of wholesalers and some Mexican retailers investing into Mexican greenhouse operations.
Despite all the Mexican movement, 30% of the country’s greenhouse acreage remains idle, Beckman said.
Citing a U.S. Department of Agriculture Mexican embassy report which noted the capacity decline, Beckman said there’s no certainty those greenhouses will grow tomatoes once they return to operation.
“The growth curve in Mexico is well-established,” he said.
“There will be more product coming into the U.S. from Mexico as well as into Mexico’s domestic market. That definitely is changing the way the western U.S. looks.”
Additionally, Beckman said he has heard how Canadian marketers have been investing more into Mexican greenhouse operations to ship more into the Southeast U.S. during the winter.
Though not a direct competitor to the Sunshine State’s mature-greens, which ship late October through early June, that hike in volume could affect Florida tomato demand.
“Clearly, California this summer and fall isn’t the California of the past,” Beckman said.
“There are changes on the horizon. We will be watching those changes very closely.”
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