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Florida tomato growers have more reason for optimism this season than at any other time in recent years, said Louis Ledlow Jr., vice president and chief operating officer of Ledlow & Associates Inc. in High Springs, FL.

“We’re all looking forward to a great season. Hopefully we’ll avoid the perfect storm of last season where we had great weather here and in Mexico, and overproduction that held the price down on everybody,” Mr. Ledlow said.

LedlowLedlow & Associates Inc. in High Springs, FL, specializes in high-quality field-grown tomatoes, including grapes, cherries, Romas and rounds. (Photo by Chip Carter)With two large growers — East Coast Tomato and Nobles-Collier — out of the game, along with several smaller players, “There’s fewer acres in Florida,” Mr. Ledlow said, which is not a bad thing. “We’ve got to match production to demand, and I’m going to stay right here and work with these people I worked with all my life because these are the people who brought me to the party. We need to regain the buying public’s trust in our products and show them that we’ve got good, stable production in Florida. We’ve got good cherry tomatoes, good grape tomatoes, good Romas — heck, we’ve got good rounds if we can just convince people to buy ‘em instead of the hothouse product. Keep buying those hothouse tomatoes, people, because if one day that’s all that’s on the shelf, you won’t be able to afford them. We’ve still got a good, viable Florida deal. We face a lot of adversity, we grow in open conditions but we provide a great product that everyone should be looking at.”

That is particularly true this year, Mr. Ledlow said.

“The tomatoes here in this state, all of the product in Florida, is outstanding at the moment,” he said in mid-November. “We’ve had good weather — the rain has quit — it’s drying up, making it easier for the farmers in the field to take care of their stuff. They had some issues early on, but with the good weather they’re getting away from their issues and they’re getting into more traditionally good crops for this time of the year. We’ve had favorable weather here for a while — we got out of that rain. Cherry, grape, Romas and round tomatoes have a decent working market and we’ve got the holiday coming up.

One thing Mr. Ledlow is concerned about is the shrinking number of farms and farmers growing food for the nation. “We still have a growing population, yet in the fresh fruit and vegetable business it seems it’s getting in fewer and fewer hands all the time — there is a lot of consolidation. In the tomato world in particular it’s just been a shrinking hemisphere. It’s changed dramatically — you have to scratch your head sometimes.”

But for Ledlow and other Florida tomato growers, “We’re all here,” he said. “It’s a positive scenario and we’ll do the best we can and hope we can put ‘election it is’ behind us. What you’re average person is concerned about is paying their mortgage and feeding their family and keeping a roof over their head. People have adjusted to difficult times.”