Tomatoes Could Be the States Next Cash Crop
The Tomato Magazine
By Rebecca Blanton
Register & Bee staff writer
Its a humble staple in almost every home gardeners plot.
But who knew this simple salad garnish might someday replace tobacco as
a cash crop. According to the experts, a farmer can make a lot of
green growing red. Tomatoes are a multi-million dollar business in Virginia,
which ranks third nationally in tomato production with 223 million pounds
grown last year. Theres a reason for the increase in production.
Eliminating the middle man or broker and going direct to the chain
stores, like Food City, is how producers are making money, said
Allen Straw, extension specialist for Virginia Tech. Thats
producers are doing now. Thats why producers are able to make that
kind of money.
Pursuing the retail dollars in local stores and markets also is helping
boost the crop.
Data out of Kentucky shows that based on retail prices its
possible to get $10,000 an acre for tomatoes, Straw said. Even with
an average yield and average market, producers can still expect to meet
or break the profi t margins of the average acre of tobacco, he said.
Tobacco prices for the smaller producers, say an acre or two where
you dont have the labor costs of the bigger operations, can bring
in between $2,000 and $3,500 per acre of tobacco, Straw said.
Like tobacco, tomatoes also are laborintensive crops. Straw, however,
points out that based on a range from $6 to $8 a box in Virginia to the
$20 per box in places like Grainger County, Tenn., farmers can expect
to recoup about the same amount of money or more per acre as they do tobacco--more
than $3,000 to $5,000 an acre. Marketing, particularly niche marketing,
also plays a huge role in the amount of money a producer can expect to
get, he said.
The variety of tomato, consumer appeal and name recognition is important,
too. It all factors in to the ultimate per box price.
Consumers want taste, Straw said. They dont want bland tasting
imports. Imported tomatoes can be so bad you throw away the tomato and
eat the box because it has more flavor, he joked. Numbers
dont lie. The demand is there.
Virginia trails only Florida and California in tomato production, according
to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Most of the states tomato
crop is grown on the eastern shore, but Straw said he
sees potential in places like Pittsylvania County. In 2006, Virginia growers
harvested more than 5,800 acres of tomatoes.
Cash receipts totaled more than $98.7 million, said Gary Lucier, agriculture
economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The numbers are impressive,
Lucier said, because in 2001 Virginias tomato harvest was on 3,900
acres with $31.7 million in cash receipts. In five years, the value of
production grew by $67 million, he said.
Virginia, however, still has a long way to go to catch up with Florida
and California. In 2006, Florida produced 1.35 billion pounds of tomatoes
and California produced 1.15 billion pounds.
Editors Note: Contact Rebecca Blanton at email@example.com
or (434) 791-7984.
© 2007 Columbia Publishing
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