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Tomato market strong, enters typical August scenario

It happens every year. August is the month that every homeowner with a garden becomes a tomato farmer, and many small farmers come out of the woodwork to supply their local farmers’ markets with an abundance of round red tomatoes or even heirloom varieties.

“We call it the dog days of August and this year we are starting to experience it a little early,” said Manny Gerardo, who works the sales desk at Bernardi & Associates Inc., in Nogales, AZ — a place he has worked for 25 years.

04-CalTom-CropPole-grown mature green tomatoes growing in Southern California.The veteran of the tomato wars was talking to The Produce News on July 29, two days before the so-called “dog days” officially begin.

“This year there doesn’t appear to be many weather problems across the country interfering with the home grown deals,” he said. “There has been a little cold weather in the Midwest, up around Michigan, but there are no big issues anywhere else.”

Typically, the year-round commercial growers, as well as brokers such as Bernardi, have to walk the tight rope of seeing their orders decline because of the home grown deals, yet they have to be ready when disasters strike and their customers need tomatoes.

“This year we thought that the green deal was going to be pretty strong because the lack of water in California has reduced the acreage about 20 percent,” said Gerardo. “But the market has been lower than it was last year.”

On this particular date in late July, he said a carton of extra large mature greens was $6 f.o.b., while large were at $5, and the mediums were selling for $4 per carton. Though that was less than last year, he said it was a bit better than a few weeks earlier.

Gerardo theorized that the high freight rates this summer have been impacting the tomato prices. “Right now truckers are getting $8,000 to haul from California to New York. They (customers) are paying almost as much for freight as for the product. The freight is $5 per carton and the market is $6 (on the largest sizes).”

On the other hand, the Bernardi salesman said the market on vine-ripe tomatoes out of San Diego has been pretty strong. “Right now it is $10-12 (per carton), which is pretty good.”

Gerardo said those tomatoes are coming from Baja California as well as from Oceanside, but the Oceanside deal is much less than it was just several years ago. After sitting out for a couple of years, the dominant Oceanside grower has come back but not with the acreage he had before.

“They are filling their own orders but don’t have much available (for outside brokers),” he said.

Bernardi is also sourcing from Mexican growers crossing through South Texas when there is a freight advantage to capitalize on because of the geographic location compared to the West Coast.

Looking down the road a bit, Gerardo is expecting fewer tomatoes from the West Mexico vegetable deal in the fall. Those tomatoes typically start in late September and run through the winter months. Currently, growers are in the deal making and planting phase.

“Last year it was a tough deal (because of the suspension agreement) and we think there are going to be less tomatoes, especially fewer Romas,” he said.

“We’ve talked to about half the guys who say they are going to plant the same but I’m not sure that’s going to happen. We think there is going to be more cukes, bells and squash because they had good markets last year.”