The commercial tomato crop in southeast Arkansas is off to a good start this season. The crop is blooming well and no major setbacks have been suffered. Harvest typically begins the first week of June and this year appears to be right on schedule.

The market for the 2008 tomato crop may best be described at this point as typical. Shipments in recent weeks have been consistent with those of the past few years.

The two regions supplying the vast majority of tomatoes to the U.S. in recent weeks have been central and south Florida, and Mexico crossing through Nogales, Ariz. Supply from both locations is expected to decrease in coming weeks as they finish their seasons.

According to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, Florida farmers received $11.65 and $10.65 per 25-pound box for their 5x6 and 6x6 mature green tomatoes on May 2. Mexican farmers received mostly $12.95 for their two-layer cartons of vine ripe tomatoes ranging in size from 4x4 to 4x5. They received mostly $10.95 for their 5x5 tomatoes.

Vine ripe tomatoes that reached the terminal markets on May 2 received prices ranging from $13.50 to $17.50 per 25-pound box, depending on size, maturity, origin and quality. The best prices appear to be associated with the largest tomatoes.

The 4x4 and 4x5 size vine ripe tomatoes sold for $14, $16 and $17.50 in the Chicago and St. Louis terminal markets.

As I compare these prices and shipments to this same week in 2006, it is surprising how similar they are. The prices and quantities we see today are very much in the range of prices and shipments we have observed over the last five years for April.

It is a little early to tell, and the tomato market can turn on a dime, but today the 2008 tomato market appears to be status quo.

One thing that is new: organic tomatoes and heirloom tomatoes have established themselves in the tomato market. These two commodities are being produced and shipped in large enough quantities that the USDA includes them in the terminal market reports and the tomato movement reports.

In 2007, USDA recorded 580,000 pounds of organic tomatoes unloaded in the United States. All 580,000 pounds came from Florida and Mexico. While this is a large enough number to record, it only comprises 0.1 percent of the total tomatoes unloaded in the United States in 2007.

All of the tomato market information reported in this article was obtained from the Fruit and Vegetable Market News Web site http://www.marketnews.usda.gov/portal/fv. The Web site has been updated recently and now contains greater capabilities to run custom reports better enabling the user to search and find exactly that information desired.