After Florida's tomato crop was devastated by four hurricanes in October, volumes are finally getting back to normal, according to shipment data from the state's tomato committee.
Shipments last week were at 75 percent of what they historically are for this time of year, said the Florida Tomato Committee, noting that only two weeks ago growers were packing 35 percent of what is typical for the season. The committee now anticipates that shipments will be at normal volumes by the third week of December.
"Although in Florida, we have seen yields almost half of what they should be, the tomato quality is remarkably good and our supplies are increasing steadily," said Reggie Brown, manager of the Florida Tomato Committee. "We would expect prices to begin to respond to the supply accordingly in the next two to three weeks."
The damage to Florida's tomato crop, along with unseasonably wet weather in Mexico, means that Florida tomato growers have packed about 50 percent of the total packed last year during same time period.
"With this unusual weather phenomenon, we have seen trying times here in Florida - the likes of which we hope never to see again," said Brown.
Florida is the nation's largest producer of fresh tomatoes and is estimated to account for about 50 percent of all tomatoes produced domestically.
The increase in supply towards normal levels should bring about a fall in price for food producers. Fresh tomato prices averaged 69.6 cents per pound in October, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service - 90 percent above the September average and the highest level in nearly nine years.
In a typial year, the volume of fresh-market tomatoes from Florida usually begins to increase in November with the state accounting for over half of total supplies (57 percent on average), said the ERS. At the same time, California shippers generally start to wind down, supplying about 20 percent of the US market and imports begin to rise with Mexico accounting for about 20 percent and others (primarily hothouse producers in countries such as Canada and the Netherlands) providing 4-5 percent of the market.
By December, Florida's growers typically ship two-thirds of the nation's fresh tomato supplies and imports from Mexico account for nearly 30 percent.
Prices for fresh-market tomatoes are highly volatile and react readily to supply shortfalls as well as oversupply situations. This year, reports the ERS, shipping-point prices for mature green tomatoes rose steadily from early September to late October moving from $6 to over $30 (depending on size and quality) per 25-pound box.
The total cost of production for fresh tomatoes produced in California's San Joaquin Valley is between $5 and $6 per 25 pound carton, given average yields (around 1,100 boxes per acre assuming a 72 percent pack-out rate). The cost of production is around $9 per box for tomatoes produced in Southwest Florida.