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The last few months have been busy for WeisBuy Farms of Fort Myers, FL. The company consolidated its Florida operations into the single Fort Myers office, expanded its Dominican Republic presence and opened an office in McAllen, TX, to take advantage of the boom in produce traffic coming across the Mexican border.

While WeisBuy trades in a full line of products, it specializes in tomatoes. That business, said owner and industry veteran Chuck Weisinger, is changing every day.

WesibuyArthur Ellis, Chuck Weisinger, Paul Boris and Michael Shapiro of WeisBuy Farms at the Florida Tomato Conference earlier this year. (Photo by Chip Carter) “We’re looking at a whole sea change in the tomato business. Two major Florida shippers have taken a hiatus in addition to smaller growers. Whether it’s the economy in general or economic problems that we’ve seen totally in the tomato business, we’re beginning to see less and less growing in the mature tomato business,” Mr. Weisinger said. “The last three or four years have been disastrous for Florida growers and we’re beginning to see realignment of product volume, growers and maybe a sea change in marketing the product.”

More Florida growers are selling tomatoes ahead of time on contract “to guarantee themselves at least a break-even price on their product,” Mr. Weisinger said.“

Less product means a better market so far this season, and Mr. Weisinger believes there is a chance that the market can at least remain stable.

“We specialize in tomatoes and I’m very optimistic. I always look at the glass as half full. I think everything’s going to get better,” Mr. Weisinger said. “Growers in the U.S. are the same way — we’re nothing but optimists. We know what it’s going to cost us to grow — the plastic, the fertilizer, the labor, the insurance, the gas, the seed, the plants — the only thing we don’t know is what we’re going to be paid for our product. Who could be more of a gambler and an optimist than a grower? And especially a Florida grower?”

Earlier this year WeisBuy incorporated its Pompano Beach, FL, branch — which handled its Dominican Republic deal — into its Fort Myers headquarters.

“We’re still doing the same amount of business, we’re just doing it out of this office,” Mr. Weisinger said. “Our Dominican deal is just getting started. We’re going to ship peppers, cucumbers, hot peppers, papaya, a whole plethora of items out of the DR, including Roma tomatoes this year. We’re just getting started. I got my first trailerload in mid-November and product acceptance seemed to be real good. Everything is certified, which is necessary today — we can go back to the seed if we have to and tell you what’s in our product.”

Meanwhile, “I opened an office in McAllen so we could have onsite visual acceptance and the fact that we can look at the product is important rather than buying sight unseen,” Mr. Weisinger said. “With the road [Federal Highway 40] coming out of Mexico to McAllen being opened in October, we felt like we needed to have representation right there. Eighty percent of our product in the winter seems to come out of Mexico.”