Thursday, January 20, 2005

Tomato Crops Unpicked

LABELLE, FL. -- Acres of Florida tomatoes remain unpicked while the general
public still perceives a shortage, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles
H. Bronson was told by growers during a tour of South Florida tomato farms

"I was shocked to see acre upon acre of unharvested tomatoes," Bronson said
after visiting tomato farms in Homestead. "The perception of a tomato
shortage still remains in the mind of the public. As a result, consumers
aren't buying tomatoes, retail grocers and restaurants aren't placing
orders, and our growers are facing disaster because they can't sell their

Bronson said that, while there was a short-term shortage of tomatoes
immediately after the state's destructive hurricane season, Florida's
farmers replanted and there now is an abundance of fresh tomatoes.

"Florida's tomato farmers worked hard to get back in business following the
hurricanes, but are now frustrated as their crop remains in the field
because they can't find buyers," Bronson said. "Even with this abundant
tomato supply, we're still hearing stories that some restaurants and
fast-food establishments are still limiting tomatoes or not serving them at

Retail grocery prices for tomatoes, which had peaked at nearly $4 per pound
in October and November, have begun returning to more normal levels.
Bronson was told by growers that they are receiving 15 to 20 cents per
pound for their tomatoes.

Bronson told growers he has directed his Division of Marketing and
Development to assist them in moving the current tomato crop into the

"We want American consumers to know that Florida is back in the fresh
tomato business," Bronson said. "We encourage corporate buyers for grocery
chains and restaurants to move swiftly to help satisfy consumers' pent-up
demand for this delicious and healthy product."

Florida's devastating hurricane season - which destroyed tomatoes in the
field and delayed planting of new crops - had contributed to a short-term
shortage of fresh tomatoes in much of the country. The situation was
exacerbated by problems in other tomato-producing areas (heavy rains during
the harvest season in California and a continuing pest problem in Mexico).
As a result, many consumers saw empty tomato bins in their grocery stores
or restaurant menus indicating that tomatoes were available only by special
request or, in some cases, not at all.

An unprecedented four major hurricanes -- Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne
-- battered Florida's farmers in August and September, leaving in their
wake uprooted crops, flooded fields and a battered infrastructure. Many
Florida tomato growers replanted their crops after Charley and Frances only
to see them destroyed soon after by Jeanne.

"Florida's farmers have rebuilt, replanted and revived much of our state's
agriculture industry," Bronson said. "This is vital not only for our
state but for the entire nation, since Florida farmers produce 80 percent
of this country's domestically grown vegetables during the winter months."

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