'Relatively poor' U.S. market for Florida tomatoes amid peak Mexican imports

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'Relatively poor' U.S. market for Florida tomatoes amid peak Mexican imports

Ideal growing conditions over recent months have helped Florida's tomato production rebound to historic levels, but an industry head believes Mexican imports have significantly weakened the domestic market. 

Florida Tomato Committee manager Reggie Brown said wet weather over the 2015-16 winter in the Sunshine state had greatly reduced volumes to less than 30 million 25-pound boxes for that season which ran from October through June.

This compared to typical state-wide production levels of 35-36 million boxes.

"Last year was the wettest year almost on record in Florida during the winter months. That was a significant reduction we saw because of the weather," he told Fresh Fruit Portal.

"But this year we’ve had virtually ideal growing weather and we’ve rebounded in terms of production volume very significantly from last year’s low point. So now we're at historic levels, as opposed to being historically low last year."

Brown explained the winter had been relatively dry over the current season, with no cold weather having any significant impact on the crop. 

"We have weather that will sustain tomato production and we do on occasion have winters where we have freezes or frosts that can damage the crop," he said.

"This winter we did not have those problems and we have consistent production weather all the way through the cycle."

He said there had been some very isolated cases of recent cold weather affecting crops in the extreme north but said this would not have a notable impact on volumes.

Tomato agreement "circumvented"

However, the state's improved production this year, combined with heavy imports from Mexico over recent months, have led to a tough market situation.

"The market from November all the way through to the current period has been relatively poor, due to a number of factors," Brown said.

"Over this period we compete very directly with Mexican imports, which are at their peak shipments in January, February and March, and we also had good supply. The conflict of those good supplies resulted in a weak market situation here in the United States for Florida tomatoes.

"I anticipate the Mexican imports will moderate sometime here in early April and wer will pick up the dominant supply of round tomatoes in the U.S. in April, May and early June."

He also said there had been issues relating to the Tomato Suspension Agreement with Mexico, which has been in place for two decades and sets a price floor.

"One of  our major problems has been the circumvention of that agreement in the current season, as the pressure has risen for Mexican product to enter the country when the border basically closes at the reference price. So it’s been a turbulent year from that stand point," he said.

He said that in order to boost the local growers' profitability, the Florida Tomato Committee continued to support research and improve varieties for yield potential and customer satisfaction. 

It is also looking at the potential of development the ability to mechanically harvest tomatoes by changing the plant configuration and the production practices, and Brown added the Committee was "encouraged" with the science that was being applied and anticipated progress in that direction in subsequent years.

"The industry needs to be focusing on its profitability and that is based upon its productivity. The combination of highly productive varieties with a stable market situation will improve the profitability - that is what we anticipate in the future," he said.

"The tomato industry is an industry when everyone is fortunate enough to make a crop it has significantly more capacity than it has market, and it results in tough market situations because of this overcapacity, based in the combination of domestic production and imports."

Photo: www.shutterstock.com


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