Florida’s tomato growing season is now in full swing and growers are hopeful the industry will rebound after this past season during which farmers saw a nearly 23 percent reduction in crop yields. Florida is the largest fresh tomato producing state in the country.
This past growing season was a rough one for Florida’s tomato farmers. A
n El Nino weather pattern led to one of the wettest winters in more than eight decades with January being the rainiest on record. That gave way to a growing season plagued by disease and low yields.
28.2 million 25-pound boxes of tomatoes were cultivated compared to 36.5 million boxes in the previous growing season. Director of the Hendry County Extension Office of the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Gene McAvoy said this past season’s warm, wet weather increased losses to bacterial disease.
“We had a tremendous amount of disease pressure,” said McAvoy. “In addition to that, when we get the excessive amount of rainfall that we saw last year, it will leech out a lot of fertilizers that we put into the soil reducing the ability of the plant to produce for itself.”
Florida tomato growers also operate amid a competitive import market. Executive Vice President of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange and Manager of the Florida Tomato Committee, Reggie Brown said that during this past season, Florida farmers lost market share. “We’re directly competing with Mexican tomato production,” said Brown.
“We dropped from 45 percent of the fresh tomatoes in the United States down to 39 percent and the remaining portions of those tomatoes consumed in America were imports, almost exclusively coming from Mexico which the average consumer doesn’t even recognize.”
McAvoy said one of the best ways Florida growers can compete with Mexican tomato imports is through technology. Researchers with the University of Florida are working with growers to breed tomato varieties with greater disease resistance. “One of the things we’re looking at are plants that would not have to be staked that would be grown in an open-bed system where we might be able to reduce some of the labor involved,” said McAvoy.
NOAA's Climate Prediction Center is calling for well below normal rainfall and near to slightly above normal temperatures in Florida during the month of December, which would benefit Florida’s tomato producers.