SACRAMENTO — Processing tomato growers in California are bringing in an even smaller crop than they anticipated, which could mean long-term gain but short-term pain in terms of prices.
Contracted production is forecast at 11.5 million tons, or 50 tons per acre, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service. That’s 8 percent below the 2018 crop and 2.5 percent below the May forecast.
And farms could have difficulty even meeting the revised estimate, said Bruce Rominger, a Winters, Calif., grower and board chairman of the California Tomato Growers Association.
“I think that report is still too optimistic,” Rominger said. “It’s going to be smaller than that.”
The industry was already girding for its lowest contracted production since 2006 as it tries to pare down stockpiles of canned tomatoes still in warehouses after record production in 2014 and 2015.
Planted acreage this season was expected to be 235,000, the lowest since 1988 and a 10 percent decrease from 2016, NASS reported.
Prices to growers have fallen from $80 per ton in 2015 to $70.50 per ton this year, Rominger said.
A shorter crop could lead to higher prices as carryover supplies dwindle, but prices for this season were set in advance and won’t change. Even with the May estimate, growers would have needed higher yields this summer to do more than break even, Rominger has said.
“It’s too early to tell how short the crop will be,” he said. “We do have quite a bit of inventory left over. It will certainly help to get rid of the heavy burden of inventory.”
Spring rains delayed planting for many growers, then several heat waves this summer shrank yields. The heat has caused the harvest in the Central Valley to be erratic, interrupting the smooth flow of tomatoes to the canneries, according to NASS.
California leads the world in processing tomato production and accounts for about 94 percent of the processing tomato acreage in the U.S., according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service.