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Serving: IN

Indiana Tomato Harvesting Time Is Now

Indiana ranks second in the nation in the production of processing tomatoes and harvest is in full swing.

Growing up I was not around specialty farming much, so large-scale vegetable farming intrigues me. A few years ago, my dad and my brother had the opportunity to raise for Red Gold. Now in the third year of production for the farm, I am still intrigued.

Of course I get all the learning and fun without any of the work. Tomatoes are a highly intensive crop, both in labor and management.

Related: Massachusetts Loves Its Tomatoes!

The growing time for field tomatoes is approximately 90 days. Plantings are done in groups so that the entire crop is not ripe or ready for harvest at once. The timing between harvest and processing is obviously important in a perishable commodity.

Indiana tomatoes: Straight out of the field, home canned or on a shelf at the grocery store, tomatoes are always good eatin'.

The harvester runs between 1 and 2 mph. Simply put there is a wheel with tines that is continually pulling the vines toward the cutter. The vine is cut and moved onto the conveyor and into the sorter. The harvester is set up to sort by machine for size but there are also people riding to sort for color and ripeness.

Once a semi- trailer is loaded with approximately 25 tons of tomatoes, they are hauled to the processor. To empty a semi-load of tomatoes, the trailer is filled with water. Once full the gate is opened, the tomatoes float out of the trailer. Within 24 hours, the tomatoes are processed and in the can.

Tomatoes for processing fall into two categories: high value products and soft products. Whole peel products such as whole tomatoes, diced tomatoes, and salsa are made from high value; while ketchup, sauces and juice are considered soft products.

Related: Specialty Crop Growers and Livestock Owners Concerned About Spray Drift

On average, three-fourths of the tomatoes Americans consume are in processed form. This number steadily began to rise in the late 1980s thanks to the popularity of pizza, pasta and salsa.

Indiana ranks second in the nation in production of processing tomatoes. USDA statistics show that in 2003 Indiana was 2.1% of the US production.

While we have had a fair amount of rain this year for tomatoes, they also like heat. Indiana's final tomato crop numbers will be interesting to see after the cool summer we have had. Will they match last year's bumper crop?

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