Processing Tomato Update
The lowest production in more than 30 years and resulting tight supplies have processing tomato prices on the rise heading into the 2023 crop year. If you’re considering planting processing tomatoes to capitalize on these prices, lay the right agronomic foundation to ensure a successful crop once you’ve identified the most practical yield, quality and revenue objectives and crop input budgets necessary to accomplish your goals.
The California Tomato Growers Association (CTGA) announced earlier this year that negotiations with the state’s major tomato processors yielded prices almost one third higher than last year. Current premiums range from $3 to $18/ton for late-season delivery on a tonnage basis.
“CTGA considers $138.00 to be a fair and reasonable base price for the industry, growers, and processors alike,” according to a CTGA report. “This represents a 31.4% increase from 2022. The Board also felt it was important to set the price to provide the growers certainty for 2023.”
In the last two years, processing tomato acreage was just shy of 230,000 acres, the lowest since 1988. Lower yields have contributed to falling supplies and increased demand. CTGA officials blame disease, drought and poor irrigation water quality for the drop in output. Annual production has been around 11 million tons after output peaked in 2015 at 14 million tons on just shy of 300,000 acres.
Here are a few key agronomic variables to consider if you’re adding processing tomatoes this spring, according to a university report from University of California, Davis Extension Vegetable Specialist Tim Hartz.
- Watch the mercury. A warm-season crop sensitive to frost damage, tomatoes germinate best around 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Daytime temperatures between 77 and 95 degrees are ideal for many growth stages, provided adequate moisture. Below 50 and above 100 degrees, the crop’s output and quality suffer.
- Consider your soils. Soil type has a lot to do with when you should plant processing tomatoes. Sandy soils are preferred if you’re planting early because they warm up more quickly and promote early growth. Heavier soils are more productive, especially with later plantings and given adequate drainage.
- Provide the right water source. Sprinkler, furrow and drip irrigation can all provide a tomato crop the water it needs, but the efficacy of each type depends on the crop’s growth stage. Sprinklers are best for early stand establishment, while furrow irrigation is best later in the season. Drip irrigation is effective season-long, but its efficacy depends on soil types, topography and water quality.
- Supply the right fertility. University research shows maximum yield is obtainable with up to 150 pounds of nitrogen per acre, though rates as high as 250 pounds/acre are common. Application rates for other nutrients like phosphorous and potassium depend on soil residue and general growing conditions.
- Control pests, weeds and disease. Integrated pest management guidelines can help ensure you’re deploying the right cultural, mechanical and chemical means to control common pests. Consult your Grow West PCA to determine the pests you’re most likely to encounter and the optimal control methods.
- Harvest and handle the crop. Processing tomatoes rely on mechanical harvest when about 90% of the crop is ripe. Time harvest operations and consider adding a fruit ripening agent to hit the right window. Once harvested, make sure bulk loads are evaluated and graded before processing to ensure maximum value.
Once you’ve accounted for these agronomic variables, it is important that you review your production goals and budget objectives to ensure the appropriate activities align with your plan. Reach out to your Grow West PCA and/or agronomy team as you execute 2023 cropping plans.