By TIM HEARDEN
SACRAMENTO -- A virus and adverse weather conditions have hampered the tomato harvest in California, as growers of processing tomatoes have so far failed to meet their contractual production levels.
Tomato growers in the San Joaquin Valley were grappling this spring with the beet curly top virus, which was reported to cause as much as 50 percent damage to fields in Fresno County.
Then a one-two punch of unseasonable rain in June and record heat earlier this month damaged some tomatoes in the north. Austin Harter, who works for Julia's Fruit Stand in Dairyville, Calif., said the rain split tomatoes just as they were ripening and the heat "baked what was left."
"In the north, some of the earlier varieties probably didn't take the heat as well," said Mike Montna, president of the California Tomato Growers Association. "The tonnage is OK at this point, but the defect level has been a little higher than it would have been had we not had the heat."
California's tomato processors had anticipated contracts for 13.1 million tons of processing tomatoes for 2013, a 4.5 percent increase from the final contracted production total in 2012, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service office here. The May contracted acreage of 259,000 was 2,000 below the agency's predictions in January but 1,000 above last year.
Nearly 40,000 acres in California are devoted to fresh tomatoes, whose value is more than $360 million annually, according to NASS statistics.
The tomato harvest typically runs from early July to mid-October, although cool and wet springs in some recent years have frustrated farmers' efforts to get a crop in the ground and caused them to spend more money than anticipated on fumigants.
This year, some growers had to replant because of curly top virus, which is carried from plant to plant by the beet leafhopper and stunts growth. In Merced County, some growers lost 10 percent to 15 percent of their crop, said Scott Stoddard, a University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor there.
For growers facing a diminished crop, insurance will help mitigate some of the loss, although it won't make farmers whole, Montna said.
"We're going to go until mid-October to late October, so we have a long way to go," he said. "Some of the mid-to later August, September and October yields could increase and affect what the total is going to be. But as of right now, the curly top virus has had a definite impact on yield."
California Tomato Growers Association: http://www.ctga.org