The Tomato Magazine
California Processed Growers Seek Higher Contract Offerings
By Lisa Lieberman
Record heat waves in California earlier this summer have reduced what
was already projected to be a very short processed tomato crop by at least
an extra 10 percent. Because of that, growers are hoping the short fall
will translate into higher contract offerings from canners next year.
The tomatoes just cooked in the fi eld, said Don Cameron,
general manager for Terranova in Helm in Fresno County, Calif. We
can take a few days of 100 to 105 degree temperatures without any real
issues. But this was record heat. We had about a week of over 110-degree
weather, and the plants just collapsed.
Cameron, who grows about 1,500 acres of processing tomatoes, said that
his yields were down by fi ve to 10 tons per acre on fields that normally
produce 38 tons per acre. It may be too soon to tell exactly how much
damage the heat wave caused, since the tomatoes were at all different
stages of growth when the high temperatures hit.
The plants in the fi eld were affected one way or another. Either
the fruit that was ready to be picked turned to mush and rotted in the
fields or the plants with blossoms that were getting ready to set fruit
were aborted, Cameron reported.
Theres a good chance that the plants with aborted blossoms will
have reduced fruit supply in October when the tomatoes are normally harvested,
Cameron said. Overall fruit harvest had been projected to be about 11
Reduced Supply Expected
Well be fortunate to end up with 10 million tons, and it could
be as low as 9 million tons by the time we fi nish, Cameron said.
California produces 90 to 95 percent of the U.S. processed tomato crop
and about 45 percent of the world-wide processed tomato supply. Canners
will also be feeling the affects of lower yields this year, since last
years carryover is only 50 percent of normal, said Tom Braner of
Tanimura & Antle in Five Points, Calif.
Inventories are at the lowest point theyve been in 15 to 20
years, Braner said. Going from one crop to another, we usually
have 4 million tons on hand. Right now, weve only got 2 million
tons. The crops going in one door and out the back at the canneries
as fast as they can move through the processing facility.
In a sense, thats good news for the processors, he noted. Theyre
able to charge more for processed tomatoes due to reduced supply and high,
world-wide demand for the product. Meanwhile, growers are receiving less
money than they should because they are locked into fixed contract prices.
And since they already have had two bad years in a row, many are saying
they might not grow tomatoes next year unless processors agree to bumping
up contract offerings, Braner said.
Last year, prices were $55 a ton. The year before that, they averaged
$52 per ton.
This year, they shot up to $57, he said. Next year,
growers are asking for $65 a ton. Canners are selling for higher prices,
and growers just want their fair share.
Out of 8,000 acres, T & A, grows about 900 acres of processing tomatoes,
Braner said. If the price isnt right next year, T & A and other
growers in the area are expected to switch out of tomatoes into more profitable
Switching to Alternative Crops
A lot of growers dont want to put all their eggs in one basket
with crops like tomatoes, so some have been switching to permanent crops
such as almonds, he said. That causes a problem for canners
because theres less acreage out there available for growing tomatoes.
So, if canners want to keep tomatoes in California, theyre
going to have to do something about it, Braner warned.
Right now, there is real danger of more California tomato growers switching
to other crops, added Bret Ferguson, who is on the board of directors
for the California Tomato Growers Association in Stockton. About
30,000 to 40,000 acres of tomatoes and other row crops (cotton, vegetables,
etc.) are being switched out to more permanent plantings each year.
Processors have shown theyre concerned about the supply of
tomatoes, but theyre not showing as much concern as they should,
While prices to growers went up 10 to 11 percent this year compared to
the year before, processors raised their wholesale prices by almost 35
percent from 29 cents per pound of paste last year to 38 cents
this year, Ferguson said.
This year, producers are hoping for at least $65 a ton and that processors
will come out with a price earlier in the season so that producers can
make plans for next year, Ferguson said.
Last year, we got prices in November and December. This year were
hoping to hear something by October or November. Historically, contracts
dont come out until anywhere between February and April, Ferguson
Ross Siragusa, president and CEO of CTCA, said the industry also hopes
to see changes in green grass deductions, so growers lose less money for
We want to make the contracts more consistent, Siragusa said.
The deductions for green grass tomatoes should be less punitive
to growers, since processors dont cull all of these tomatoes; they
use them in the processing to add viscosity to the paste.
Ultimately, if growers and processors work together, it can benefit the
tomato industry as a whole, Ferguson said.
Weve got to promote our product better, Ferguson said.
In the past few years, theres been a lot in the media about all
of the health benefi ts of lycopene in fresh tomatoes. Processed tomatoes,
however, have much higher percentages of lycopene, shown to prevent different
types of cancer, he said.
Were working on getting a promotional program together with
the processors and growers that will help grow the overall market,
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