RUSKIN, FL – Hurricane Irma didn’t wipe out Florida vegetables and tomatoes – not even close. But it did delay the season and create shortages that have led to high prices at market. Now, Mexico is already bringing tomatoes across the border, threatening to negatively impact a sky-high market before Florida arrives in volume.
But Irma aside, Florida is back in the game, says DiMare Fresh Vice President Tony DiMare.
“We’re experiencing some reduced supplies because of the impact of Irma, there are no gaps. We are coming into the lightest supply period for the next few days due to the effects of Irma,” DiMare says. “People will not go without, but there will be short supplies for the next several weeks.”
They’ll also be paying more for the available supply.
“It’s already impacted pricing and has for the past couple of weeks because the front end crops were impacted by Irma,” DiMare says. “As a result, pricing has been very high and will continue to be high over the next couple of weeks.”
Nogales Already Increasing Shipments Into U.S.
Field round tomatoes were $37.95 a carton Dec. 12, almost $9 more than this time last year. Florida shipments are down by more than half, to 3.44 million cartons through Dec. 9 compared to 7.4 million in 2016.
Florida tomatoes might not reach full volume in time to take advantage of the high market. DiMare says some Nogales shippers have started production and this week begun crossing increased shipments of round and Roma tomatoes, “which has caused some concern from the buying end about the strength in the market.”
Still, vegetable and tomato growers like DiMare are counting their blessings. While commodities like citrus were devastated, short-crop growers were able to recover in time to recoup a majority of the season.
“We came out overall fine, we did have some minor crop loss, but more than that is a lot of yield that we are going to lose and have lost,” DiMare says. “Some has been realized, some has not.”
Regardless, by mid-January, Florida as a whole should be back at full strength in the vegetable and tomato markets.
“Assuming we don’t have any further weather events — and even though we are in Florida we still can be subject to frosts and freezes — I would say after the first of the year, middle January, Florida will be into their normal periods for the wintertime. Our mains season in Florida as far as production is concerned is the spring season, April and May, that’s when Florida typically flourishes and you have all the different regions back into production. But getting away from hurricane Irma effects, you’ll start to see that after the first of January.”
Full Effects Of Irma Won’t Be Known For Years
“Florida is still here, we have product, the quality is excellent, we’ve had good weather since Irma so fruit we are harvesting now is of high quality. We’re just into reduced supplies because of the effects of Irma. As long as we have favorable weather from here on out volume will increase and quality will stay good.”
Which is good, because there’s no other domestic producer of tomatoes and vegetables in that deep winter window.
“Southwest and South Florida is the only region in the United States that produces winter vegetables and tomatoes, period, that’s it. If you’re looking for domestic product, U.S grown product, locally grown that’s the only region in the United States producing.”
This is just one more fight for Florida growers, who in recent years have had to fight for labor and fight off foreign competition.
“It’s kind of cliché to say, but it truly is,” DiMare allows. “This is what we deal with. There’s an old saying from the farmers, it’s always too much of something, it’s either too wet, too hot, too cold. This is what we do. Unfortunately with Irma, it truly impacted the whole state, it’s a rarity to get a hurricane to do that. It went right up the backbone of the state of Florida and impacted every commodity from South Florida up to north Florida.”
To degrees that may be revealing themselves a year, two years, three years or more to come.
‘I’m Better Off Going To Vegas’
“With these storms and the winds associated with them, they typically blow a lot of disease up and down the state,” DiMare says. “There are diseases we may not even realize today that may be an issue two or three years from now that may cause tremendous problems for the crops years from now.”
Fortunately there are smart people in research at land grant universities and in the private sector already looking into potential problems like those.
“We as producers have to rely on those research scientists to address these issues and find remedies to ultimately cure the problems we face from pests and disease,” DiMare allows.
“But farmers are very resilient people. This is what we do. One thing we’re not short of is challenges in our industry,” DiMare says. “We’ve been through it many times before and we will in the future and we’ll strive to make sure we’re providing as good a product as we possibly can.
“But my dad always used to say, ‘I’m better off going to Vegas and rolling the dice than being in this business,’” DiMare laughs. “‘They’ve got better odds of winning out there than staying in the produce business.’”