Lingering Effect: COVID-19 Still Impacting Tomato Industry

Clint Thompson Florida, Tomatoes, Top Posts

By Clint Thompson

The coronavirus pandemic continues to have a lingering effect on Florida’s tomato industry. Bob Spencer, President of West Coast Tomato in Palmetto, Florida, said it’s been a rough year for Florida producers. COVID-19 is a main reason why as are imports from Mexico.

“The majority of our produce is used in food service. A lot of it is in the north and northeast where restaurants have been shut down. We kind of live in an alternate universe here in Florida where things are normal, but our customer base has been totally different with lockdowns,” Spencer said. “Even as they’re opening back up, there’s a certain percentage of the population that’s been so scared by pronouncements from their governors that they’re scared to go back out. You’re just not getting the pull from the food service industry that you would normally have.

“It’s been a tough winter. Mexico just continued dumping a tremendous amount of product into the U.S. below their costs. It seems to me they added acreage this year, and they just couldn’t move the product.”

Season Nearing an End

There is about two weeks left in the spring tomato season, according to Spencer. The crop is going to end 7 to 10 days earlier than normal. He said a best-case scenario for some farmers would be to break even, though admits there will probably some who experienced financial losses.

“You think about all the school cafeterias that use tomatoes, all the college cafeterias, all the restaurants that have been at 30%, 40% capacity. That’s our customers. It’s been difficult to get any traction this year,” Spencer said. “Hopefully, by the fall, everybody will feel comfortable getting back out to restaurants and getting kids back into the schools, the cafeterias and college cafeterias, and we’ll be back to a normal pull from our customer base.”