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The Tomato Magazine
October 2006

Florida Tomato Conference Report Tomato Shipments for the 2005-06 Season Were Down Substantially

Hot temperatures, tropical storms and hurricanes have not made life easy for Florida’s tomato industry over the past two years. Three weeks into the 2005-06 season, Hurricane Wilma tore a destructive path through Florida, resulting in crops losses across the production area.

So reported Reggie Brown, manager of the Florida Tomato Committee (FTC), in opening remarks given Sept. 6 at the Florida Tomato Institute in Naples, Fla. The institute was held in conjunction with the 2006 FTC and Florida Tomato Exchange Joint Tomato Conference. The conference offi cially began on Sept 5 and continued through Sept. 10.

Mixed Damage
Looking back at the 2005-06 season, damage from Hurricane Wilma ranged from minor in some fi elds to substantial in others, Brown said. Total shipments for the 2005-06 season were 47,880,303 25-lb equivalents, down more than 5 million 25-lb equivalents from the previous year. During the 2004-05 season, the industry shipped 53,025,915 25-lb equivalents.

Looking at the 2006 FTC Annual Report, tomato imports from Mexico were down 9 percent from the 2004-05 season, but Canadian greenhouse imports were up 17 percent.

“With a Florida packout of about 90 percent of the 2004-05 season, the combined effect on the market was mixed. In the fall and winter, when supplies were short from Mexico and Florida, and Canada was not in the market, higher prices prevailed,” the report noted. “In the spring, when Florida shipments returned to normal levels and Canadian greenhouse shipments surged, prices declined.

“Economically, the season was mixed. For those who escaped with little damage from the weather in the fall, the season was good, and for others it was a struggle. Average weekly prices fluctuated from a high of $25.31 to a low of $4.48, which is a decrease from the previous season’s fluctuations that showed a weekly average high price of $38.43 and a low of $2.83.”

The average price for the 2005-06 $12.50 averaged in 2004-05. Total cash value of the crop was $491,539,919 compared to $662,635,750 in 2004-05 and $466,438,077.50 in 2003-04.

Food Safety Issue
With food safety a growing concern in many parts of the country, Brown announced that the Florida tomato industry is taking a proactive approach aimed at minimizing future problems. It is working closely with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the University of Florida and other local scientists to help identify and prevent future outbreaks involving tomatoes and tomato products.

The food safety issue isn’t going away, he told the audience. There have been reports of contaminated lettuce products in parts of the country. Of more concern are the isolated illnesses traced to cut, sliced and diced tomatoes.

An industry committee already is putting together a plan for voluntary enforcement in 2007, Brown said. By putting together their own plan, members hope to avoid having to deal with additional government regulations.

As the 2006-07 seasons gets underway, the Florida tomato industry also faces other challenges, Brown told the group. One is whether there will be an adequate labor supply to harvest the upcoming crop. Workers are expected to be in short supply. A second concern is the spread of the Q-type white fly. The pest has been found in greenhouses and nurseries in 22 states including Florida. The Q type white fly is resistant to many of the commonly used insecticides used for managing whiteflies.

How to best utilize reduced supplies of methyl bromide on the market also is expected to be a concern, Brown said. It is uncertain yet how much of the soil fumigant will be available for use this year. Spiraling energy costs also are impacting the Florida tomato industry, the FTC manager said. It is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain profitability.

During the conference, John Himmelberg with O’Connor & Hannan, LLP, updated members of the Florida Tomato Exchange on what’s been happening in Washington, D.C., over the past year Among other things, the multi-lateral trade agreement fell apart, he reported, and is not expected to come together again soon. Progress on the farm bill is extremely slow, he said, but the good news is there is likely to be a specialty crop provision that will offer some help to growers of small acreage crops. It will be diffi cult to obtain the “whole package,” but ultimately progress in that area is expected to happen.

Immigration is “one of the bigger issues,” the attorney said, and there are lots of competing interests. Congress is not expected to do much with immigration reform until after the fall election. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) is taking the issue of food safety “very seriously,” he warned, further emphasizin the need for the tomato industry to be proactive. The push to have trace back all of the way to the farm is intensifying.

Marketing Report
Samantha Winters, the FTC’s director of education and promotion, reviewed the progress of the Committee’s domestic marketing program.

Last year was the fi rst time the FTC has delved into television advertising to boost consumer awareness of the health and benefi ts of eating Florida-grown tomatoes. The promotional program, aired over national cable TV, featured 15-second spots. The ads ran on Food Network, HGTV, Discovery Health, Discovery Home and DIY Network. POP materials also were developed to compliment the television ads and were offered to retailers, repackers and wholesalers to further drive the campaign.

Winters said the committee plans to leverage its creative investment by repeating the same 595 spots on the cable TV food network again this year. The ads will be broadcast over six weeks instead of
eight, as was the case last year. Ads are scheduled for airing during the first two weeks of January, February and May, 2007. Cost is estimated at approximate $1 million.

Winters said Florida’s tomato promotion program hopes to build on the momentum of last year, market directly to consumers, generate additional retail excitement, grow retail market share, foster good public relations and grow export markets, particularly to Canada and Japan.

New Officers and Committee Members:
The following were named to various positions during the Joint
Tomato Conference:
Florida Tomato Committee:
• Executive Subcommittee: James Grainer, chairman; Jay Taylor, vice chairman; Kern Carpenter, secretary; and Mike Sullivan, treasurer
• Finance Subcommittee: Mike Sullivan, chairman; David Murrah, David Neill and Ed English
• Marketing Subcommittee: Tony DiMare, chairman; Kern Carpenter, James Grainger, John Harllee, Larry Lipman, David Neill and Jay Taylor
• Research Subcommittee: Tony DiMare, Bob Spencer, Florida Tomato Conference Report, from page 7 Christian Leleu and Stephen Thomas
• Diversity Subcommittee: Tony DiMare, David Murrah, David Neill and Liz Esformes
• Education and Promotion Subcommittee: Teena Borek, Kern Carpenter, David Neill, Tony DiMare, Elizabeth Esformes, Joseph Esformes, John Harllee and David Murrah
• Members and Alternates:
District 1: Kern Carpenter and Tony DiMare, members; Teena Borek and Paul J. DiMare, alternates
District 2: Patrick Engle and Thomas L. LaSalle, Jr., members; David Neill and Stephen Thomas, alternates
District 3: Christian Leleu, Larry Lipman, David Murrah and R. Eugene Tolar, members; Mike Sullivan, Gerry Odell, Ed English and L.J. Nobles, III, alternates
District 4: James Grainger, Bob Spencer, Joseph Esformes and Jay Taylor, members; Frank Diehl, John Harllee, Billy Heller and Stephen Madonia, alternates

Florida Tomato Growers Exchange:

• Officers: Larry Lipman, president; Billy Heller, vice-president; Kern Carpenter, secretary; Mike Sullivan, treasurer; and *Reggie Brown, executive vice-president
• Executive Committee: Larry Lipman, Tony DiMare, Kern Carpenter, David Neill, Jay Taylor and *Reggie Brown
• Board of Directors:
District 1: Tony DiMare, Kern Carpenter and Michael Borek, members; Paul DiMare, Ed Hagan and Teena Borek, alternates
District 2: David Neill, Stephen Madonia, Sr., and Thomas LaSalle, Jr., members; Patrick Engle, Michael Smith and Stephen Thomas, alternates
District 3: Ed English, Larry Lipman, David Murrah and Mike Sullivan, members; Mike Schwartz, Gerry Odell, L.J. Nobles, III, and Christian Leleu, alternates
District 4: Bob Spencer, Bill Heller, James Grainger and Jay Taylor, members; J.M. Procacci, Joseph Esformes, John Harllee and Frank Diehl, alternates
*ex officio

Florida Tomato Exchange:
• Officers: Tony DiMare, president; David Neill, vice-president; Jay Taylor, secretary; James Grainger, treasurer; and Reggie Brown, executive vice-president
• Board of Directors:
District 1: Kern Carpenter, Tony DiMare and Ed Hagan, members; Teena Borek, Paul J. DiMare and Michael Borek, alternates
District 2: David Neill, Stephen Madonia, Sr., and Stephen Tomas, members; Clinton Stanley, Patrick Engle and Thomas LaSalle, Jr., alternates
District 3: Christian Leleu, Larry Lipman and David Murrah, members; Ed English, Gerry Odell and L.J. Nobles, III, alternates
District 4: James Grainger, Bob Spencer and Jay Taylor, members; Frank Diehl, John Harllee and Billy Heller, alternates. Associate Members: Gene Akins and Don McMillen

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