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Solid summer ahead for tomatoes

The tomato market should be fairly solid this summer as the drought might affect supplies but local deals should help produce promotable supplies for the category.

The summer months usually bring lots of tomatoes as local deals and backyard plants all over the country are typically in full bloom. However, the coastal commercial deals still have something to say about the supply-and-demand curve, and this year indications are that there won't be a tomato glut.vineripe-baja-webVine-ripe Romas growing in a shadehouse in Baja California.

"I think we will have promotable volume with good solid pricing," said Joe Bernardi of Bernardi & Associates, which has its headquarters in Nogales, AZ, though Bernardi was speaking from his summer perch in Turlock, CA, on June 2.

He said the drought in California has definitely reduced acreage in the San Joaquin Valley's mature green deal, which he said will affect volume throughout the summer and into the fall. He said that moving into summer, "the tomato market is a bit higher than usual. Florida is finishing up and California does not have as many areas as it had last year."

In 2013, strange weather throughout the summer in various parts of the United States and Canada produced a solid tomato market and Bernardi said we might see a repeat this year, albeit for different reasons. It is far too early to know what weather will affect the home-grown deals, but California's drought has reduced the acreage of fresh market tomatoes in the state. While mature green tomatoes are most often utilized by foodservice operations, including institutional feeders, they can impact the general tomato market.

"I think we will see a market [for mature greens] in the $8-$12 range all summer," said Bernardi. "That's a good price. We'll see promotable volume and it's a price where everyone can make some money, including the growers, the receivers and the repackers."

He said the same drought affecting California's mature green crop is also being felt in Baja California by Roma and vine-ripe tomato producers. He said volume appears to be down a bit and the market remained strong throughout the late spring period.

Rick Hearst, a salesman with Eclipse Berry Farms in Oxnard, CA, is anticipating no shortage of grape tomatoes this summer. Eclipse exclusively grows red grape tomatoes and Hearst expects good supplies for the next several months. His firm has the same acreage and program it has had the past several years, but he said there are more competitors in the market as grape tomatoes have gained popularity in recent years. However, Hearst said it is still a niche crop and it doesn't take a lot of extra acreage to mess up the market.

David Bell, chief marketing officer for Houweling's Tomatoes in Camarillo, CA, said his firm's greenhouse production is designed to harvest the same amount of acreage each week throughout the year. But longer days and more sunlight does create increased growth and the summer months see increased production because of it. Add to that a warm spring with very little fog in May, and as June was dawning, Bell predicted a bit of a spike in supplies in the coming weeks. May and fog are typically synonymous in this coastal California growing region yet that wasn't the case this year.

But the tomato category continues to grow and Bell expressed confidence that the firm would be able to orderly market the many different tomato varieties that the firm produces under the controlled environment of greenhouses.