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Tomato market situation and outlook

Commercial tomato producers in the Mid-South are in the middle of their season. The vines are setting fruit and harvest in southeast Arkansas is expected to begin the first week in June. At this point tomato producers in the Mid-South should probably expect a marketing year that is somewhat typical with prices close to the long-run average.

On May 8 the Chicago, St. Louis and Dallas terminal markets reported prices from $11.50 to $17.50 per box for vine ripe tomatoes, depending on tomato size, maturity, origin and quality. The best prices appear to be associated with the largest tomatoes. The 4x4 and 4x5 sized tomatoes sold mostly for $14, $16 and $17.50 at these markets on May 8. Last year at the same time those markets reported prices from $17.25 to $25 per box for vine ripe tomatoes.

Also reported by USDA on May 8 were prices received by farmers. Florida farmers received $6.45 to 7.45 for their 5x6 and 6x6 mature green tomatoes while Mexico farmers received mostly $10.85 for their two-layer cartons of vine ripe tomatoes ranging in size from 4x4 to 4x5. Mexico farmers received mostly $8.85 for their 5x5 and 5x6 size tomatoes.

Farmers in the Mid-South should expect prices comparable to those received by growers in other regions for their good-quality tomatoes. With the rest of May remaining before our harvest begins plus four to six weeks of harvest, there is plenty of time for tomato prices to move either direction.

According to the Arkansas Agricultural Statistics Service, Arkansas farmers have averaged $37.79 per hundredweight over the last eight years, which equates to about $8 or $9 per box.

The early part of this tomato season saw short supplies and high prices. According to USDA, the total pounds of tomatoes shipped so far this season is very similar to last year. Last year was characterized by relatively short supplies and higher prices. In recent weeks, however, shipments from Florida have been considerably ahead of last year, resulting in price declines.

So what can we expect for the remainder of May, June and into July? According to USDA’s Shipping Point Trends Report released May 9, shipments from central and south Florida is expected to decrease through May. Movement from Mexico crossing through Arizona is expected to decrease as harvest in that area finishes.

Typically tomato producers in the Mid-South face competition from west Florida, South Carolina, parts of Mexico and California. These regions will begin their harvest seasons in May or June, much the same as the Mid-South.

Most of the information for this article was obtained from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. You can keep up with the tomato market throughout the season by visiting the Web site at Select the Fruit and Vegetable program, then the Market News Price and Movement Data link and finally the Fruit and Vegetable Market News Reports link. From there you can navigate through various reports to find market information on tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables.

Fresh market tomatoes are a high value, highly perishable crop. They cannot be stored for long periods of time. As a result, tomato prices can change in a matter of weeks or even days. At the time of this writing, however, June and July of 2006 looks like an average marketing season for Mid-South tomato prices.

Kelly Bryant, Rob Hogan and Scott Stiles are University of Arkansas Extension economists. Comments or questions? Call 870-460-1091 or e-mail [email protected]

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