By Andy Nelson, The Packer
Lower acreage, high quality, weather woes in Florida and increased interest in regional deals should boost demand for Arkansas tomatoes this spring and early summer, brokers and grower-shippers said.
Product should begin shipping the first week of June, said Gary Margolis, president of Gem Tomato & Vegetable Sales Inc., Boca Raton, Fla., marketer of Triple M tomatoes, which expects excellent quality this year.
“They say they have one of the prettiest crops they’ve seen in many years,” Margolis said. “They’re in the extreme southeast corner of Arkansas, and they’ve missed everything — the heavy rains, the hail.”
John Gavin, staff chairman of the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service in Bradley County, said the quality is as good for this time of year as he’s seen in a lifetime spent around tomatoes.
The 2008 Arkansas tomato season will be different than past seasons, Gavin said. Grower-shipper Randy Clanton Farms, Hermitage, Ark., will plant two large crops, Gavin said, with the second coming off in late June, toward the end of the first-crop shipments.
That should allow Clanton to ship into late July or early August. In the past, Arkansas growers have put in second crops, but none the size of Clanton’s, who will plant more than 100 acres, Gavin said.
On May 13, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $10.65-11.65 for 25-pound cartons of loose mature green rounds from Florida, up from $9.45 last year at the same time.
Harrod & Hensley Tomato Co., Hermitage, Ark., expects to begin shipping the first week of June, with volume by June 12, said Michael Hensley, co-owner.
“From our end, the crop is off to a good start,” he said. “There’s a heavy fruit set, and it’s sizing up good.”
Harrod & Hensley also will grow a second, smaller crop this year, as it has the past two years, with product shipping through about July 25, Hensley said.
Acreage should be down in Arkansas this year because of the exit from the deal of Nogales, Ariz.-based ATS LLC, which went out of business Oct. 24, Margolis said.
In addition, weather-related losses in Florida should spur demand for Arkansas product this June, he said.
“We’re experiencing above-average levels of interest because of the reduction of good-quality extra-large and jumbo vine ripes out of Florida this spring,” he said. “People know that Arkansas grows big sizes. We’ll have no problems distributing this crop.”
Triple M is growing about 100 acres of rounds and 50 acres of romas this season, Margolis said. Roma production has increased for the company in recent years.