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The Florida tomato season has gotten off to an excellent start, and Bob Spencer of West Coast Tomato LLC in Palmetto, FL, hopes that a so-far solid market through mid-November will hold.

“We’ve been very fortunate in that we’ve got a very good market this fall. We started off with a good market and it’s pretty much stayed steady for three or four weeks now, which in our business doesn’t happen that often,” Mr. Spencer said. West-Coast-1Bob Spencer of West Coast Tomato. (Photo by Chip Carter)“We usually figure a way to screw it up somehow but we haven’t so far this time. I still have faith in our ability to screw it up, but maybe we’ll leave it alone. We’ve been very fortunate to have a good market and it’s held on. They want our product, they need our product, the Northeast is a little short and that’s been a lot of help. It’s been fun.”

What has also helped the Florida tomato market is the fact that there is less acreage this year. Two major players — East Coast Tomato and Nobles-Collier — are out of the game and several smaller players called it quits in the face of stiff competition and terrible markets three out of the last four seasons.

Mr. Spencer believes Florida tomatoes can have a solid season — and future — if state growers work together to avoid overloading the market with product.

“Usually we get a week or two into the deal and you’re dealing with six to seven bucks a box and trying to survive,” Mr. Spencer said. “We’ve been able to get a good market and sustain it. There are a few less acres that got planted in Florida this year — last year was a tough year — so there are just a few less tomatoes and maybe not the greatest yields initially so we’ve just been able to move a little better and keep it rolling. It goes back to production and acreage — that’s what it takes: Less is more, and I think we’re starting to see that now. We can plant more acres and lose money together or plant a few less and make money together. We’ve got the thickest heads around and it takes a lot to get through to us. You have to be a little bit stubborn to be successful as a farmer, but the downside is that sometimes you have to get something beat into your head before you realize it.”

Another bonus for Florida has been a lack of competition in the early part of the deal, as Mexican production has been light.

“Eventually Mexico’s going to get started up in earnest, about January — so if we can get another two or three or four weeks of this, it really makes the year a lot more fun,” Mr. Spencer said. “But we’ve seen things change on a dime in our industry so I don’t predict out more than a day or two. But when you start off good it just makes it a little easier.”