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Late spring rains have West Coast tomato producers optimistic

As the first week of June was coming to a close, rainouts in East Coast baseball parks were mounting as wet weather gripped a swatch of land from New England to Florida and from Tennessee to the Atlantic coast.

This weather not only wreaked havoc with the baseball schedule but also affected crops, including the many burgeoning homegrown tomato deals. “I already thought we were going to have a good summer tomato deal,” said Joe Bernardi, president of Bernardi & Associates, which is headquartered in Nogales, AZ, but has a summer office in Tracy, CA.Tomato-field-day-9Tomatoes maturing in a California field. “But now with these current storms back east, even as California ramps up its production I think we are looking at good markets.”

Speaking on June 6, the longtime tomato broker said that rain is going to hurt Eastern production and affect yields. He added that acreage for the California mature green crop is down anyway so the marketing situation is shaping up very well. By and large, Bernardi said it has been a fairly good tomato deal for several months and now he expects that to continue well into the summer.

Of course, the local, homegrown deals are virtually impossible to predict. Small growers pop up all over the place planting summer tomatoes and even the backyard gardener affects demand by planting several plants every year for her own use. But Bernardi said significant rain this late in the year can knock those deals for a loop and greatly affect their volume.

Jack Esformes of Pacific Triple E Ltd., also in Tracy, CA, was a little bit more reluctant to predict a good summer market.

“It’s always difficult to predict what’s going to happen in the summer,” he said. “Even with rain [in the East], those deals have such a freight advantage, it’s just hard to say what’s going to happen. It looks good, but I don’t want to jinx it.”

He did say that California weather has been very conducive to growing a good crop and the tomato plants look excellent with a couple weeks to go before they start producing a marketable crop. Esformes confirmed that the market has been good for several months and was still strong in early June — in the very high teens for a carton of tomatoes.

California’s mature green is expected to be in full production by the end of June with good volume through the summer and fall months. Typically packers are still shipping the mature greens into November and even December in some instances. Most of the mature green production goes to repackers and much of it is sold into the foodservice market where the round, firm tomatoes are great yielders of slices for burgers and other uses.

Esformes said at least one major mature green tomato producer from California was out of the deal this year so that should mean a little less volume. “But I don’t know that for sure,” he said. “I have not seen an acreage count. We are actually up about 80 acres.”

At the same time vineripes and specialty tomatoes from many districts from Oxnard to lower Baja California continue to produce, mostly for retail consumption.

Bernardi said the grape tomato market has been especially strong this year. In early June, he said it was on the “high side,” largely because of decreased production from Florida. Again he said the weather was the culprit and the latest storms will do nothing to ease that issue.