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California tomato growers hope for rebound

Tim Hearden

Capital Press

California processing tomato growers are expecting a better crop than last year, when curly top virus caused many of them to have to replant. However, much will hinge on the availability of water from wells.

SACRAMENTO — Processing tomato growers in California hope for a rebound of sorts from last year, when curly top virus spoiled part of their crop and caused some growers to have to replant.

Processors have reported they expect to ink contracts with growers for 14 million tons of tomatoes for 2014, a 17.6 percent increase from the final contracted production last year, according to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service office here.

A 14-million-ton processing crop would be the biggest of all time, soundly beating the 2012 contracted production of 12.5 million tons. That’s a tall order considering that much of growers’ success this year will hinge on the performance of wells for those who won’t have much or any surface water.

“Those estimates are just that — estimates — based on what the canneries report,” said Winters, Calif., area grower Bruce Rominger, board chairman of the California Tomato Growers Association. “It’s hard for me to believe there are really contracts for that many tons of tomatoes, but I guess it’s possible.”

However, Rominger said he’s heard no reports this year of the beet curly top virus, which was reported to cause as much as 50 percent damage to some fields in Fresno County last year. The virus is carried from plant to plant by the beet leafhopper and stunts growth.

“I think overall the crop (this year) looks pretty decent,” Rominger said. “We’ve had fairly mild weather, which is good growing weather.”

Processing tomato production has declined in recent years from the record 13.1 million contracted tons produced in 2008, according to NASS. However, it hasn’t dropped below the 11.9 million tons achieved in 2011 and again last year.

Of course, water availability and weather will have a big impact on yields. Last year, a one-two punch of unseasonable rain in June and record heat around the Fourth of July damaged some tomatoes in northern areas.

This year, growers planted tomatoes based on the water they expect from their wells, but the water table is dropping, particularly in Yolo County, Rominger said. It remains to be seen how much yields will be affected by shortages of water, he said.

“As the plants get bigger and the days get longer and get hotter, people will be having a hard time keeping up with the water,” he said.

Online

California Processing Tomato Report:

<URL destination="http://">http://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/California/Publications/Vegetables/201405ptom.pdf

</URL>California Tomato Growers Association:

http://www.ctga.org/



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