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Low tomato volume sees high prices

13:22PM Dec 13, 2017

With tomato prices soaring above $35 per carton in mid-December, some customers are cutting back, and shippers expect market conditions will be tight into the new year.

Set back by Hurricane Irma in September, season-to-date shipments of Florida tomatoes this fall have totaled 3.44 million cartons through Dec. 9, down 54% from 7.4 million cartons the same time a year ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Shipments of Florida tomatoes the week of Dec. 3-9 totaled 500,000 cartons, down more than 65% compared with 1.492 million cartons the same week last year.

The USDA said total supply of domestic and imported tomatoes the week of Dec. 3-9 was 1.9 million cartons, down 25% from 2.56 million cartons the same week last year.

The f.o.b. for central and south Florida tomatoes on Dec. 12 was $37.95 per carton for 5x6 size mature green tomatoes, for times higher than the $8.95 per carton the same time a year ago.

Cold weather in central and eastern Mexico limited some tomato volume coming through south Texas in early December, said Jose Pesqueira, sales manager for Apache Produce Imports LLC, Nogales, Ariz.

For imports coming in through Nogales, Pesqueira said tomato volume from Sinaloa was beginning and should pick up in January.

“Markets have been really good and hopefully will continue right through the holidays,” he said. Significant volume increases of imported Mexican tomatoes through Nogales are expected in January, he said.

Tony Dimare, vice president of Dimare Co., Homestead, Fla., said supplies of tomatoes were still feeling the effects of Hurricane Irma.

“Supplies are well below normal and we are half shipments to date from Florida that we were last year,” Dimare said.

Reduced yields and a supply gap between the west coast of Florida (Palmetto-Ruskin) and the start of the Immokalee-Naples region contributed to the shorter supply, he said. A shot of cold weather in Florida Dec. 9-10 and into mid-December may also hold back crop progress somewhat, he said.

“I don’t think you will see any steadier volume until probably after Christmas and maybe after the first of the year,” he said. He said Florida may not have normal supplies until mid-January.

In response to prices in the mid to high $30s per 25-pound carton range, DiMare said that some foodservice customers have cut back purchases.

“I have not heard so far of anybody taking tomatoes off the menu but there has been reduction in usage by some of the fast food companies,” he said.