USDA purchase adds $6 million to embattled Florida tomato growers'coffers
by Chip Carter | June 08, 2010
While it was not enough to salvage a disastrous season, Florida tomato
growers were happy to find a market for at least another $6 million worth of
product in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which announced plans June 4
to spend up to that amount to immediately purchase fresh Florida tomatoes
for federal food nutrition assistance programs.
Florida tomato growers are still reeling after freezing weather wiped out the
winter crop, and a too-cool spring resulted in a glut of product coming on at
once. In May, tomatoes that cost at least $8 a box to produce were selling for
as little as $4 a box.
"USDA has been carefully monitoring the situation in Florida in order to
determine how we can help growers get through the very difficult situation
caused by the freeze earlier this year," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
said June 4. "The purchase announced today will provide Florida fresh tomato
farmers with some relief, stimulate the economy, and provide high-quality,
nutritious food to people in need."
U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam (R-FL), a 2010 candidate for Florida commissioner of
agriculture and consumer services, said, "I commend USDA's actions regarding
fresh Florida tomatoes that assist not only in helping Florida tomato growers
recover from the freeze situation earlier this year that adversely impacted the
tomato market but will also provide for the health and nutritional well-being
of American food assistance recipients."
In January, Mr. Putnam toured southwest Florida tomato fields in the wake of
devastating freezes that left much of the state as barren as a lunar landscape.
In March, he was at the helm of a congressional delegation letter to Mr.
Vilsack requesting federal action to mitigate the effects of the disastrous
weather via federal emergency food assistance programs.
Each year, USDA purchases a wide variety of nutritious food products to
support the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program,
the Summer Food Service Program, the Food Distribution Program on Indian
Reservations, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program and the Emergency
Food Assistance Program. USDA also makes emergency food purchases for
distribution to victims of natural disasters.
As much as 80 percent of Florida's winter tomato crop was destroyed by a
stretch of freezing weather that saw the longest duration in recorded history.
Temperatures dipped below freezing as far south as Homestead, FL, for
multiple nights throughout the first two weeks of 2010.
Florida growers replanted lost crops after the freeze, in addition to scheduled
plantings. Cool temperatures throughout the spring resulted in a glut and
forced a season that is normally eight to 10 weeks into roughly a four-week
Growers who wish to participate in the program should go on-line to
www.ams.usda.gov for more information.