By Clint Thompson
Southeast tomato producers have encountered various challenges recently. Between rising imports and competition with Mexico, increasing labor concerns and the impact of COVID-19 on the food service sector, the tomato industry struggles to stay afloat.
But industry leaders remain optimistic that the industry has a brighter future. Just ask Michael Schadler, manager of the Florida Tomato Committee and executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange.
“The trends have not been good for the last 10 to 20 years, but I think there’s still some real opportunity. Because of the players that are still in the market, the ones that survived and are very committed to the long-term viability of this industry, I think there’s opportunity to see these trends start to turn around,” said Schadler during Wednesday’s Florida Tomato Conference.
“We’re opportunistic. COVID has thrown everybody off. There’s a lot of uncertainty. It’s hard to forecast how many tomatoes we should be planting right now. (That’s) because of all the uncertainties COVID has created in the marketplace.”
Florida produces approximately 25,000 acres. It accounts for 35% of the national production. Its tomato production is concentrated mostly in central to the southern portion of the state. They’re in counties like Hillsborough, Polk, Manatee, Lee, Hendry, Collier, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade.
Last year, Florida produced 21.98 million boxes of round tomatoes. It was a 1.3% decrease from the previous year. It was also a 15% decline from two seasons ago; and a 69% drop from the peak season of 1991-92 that produced 71.8 million boxes. Round tomatoes make up about 70% of Florida’s crop.