Commercially grown tomatoes in Arkansas have been in the field since early to mid-April. Producers have staked and tied at least once and made at least one fungicide application. The season is progressing nicely. As the crop develops, we begin to monitor the current situation of the tomato market.

Tomatoes, like all fresh fruits and vegetables, are perishable and cannot be stored for long periods of time. This means that price is highly dependent on the current supply and demand. Supply and demand can change in a matter of days, thus making tomato prices quite volatile.

The USDA Agricultural Marketing Service collects supply, demand and price information on fruits and vegetables in the United States. Most of their information on fruits and vegetables is available on its Web site at http://www.ams.usda.gov/fv/. Much of this information is updated daily. The USDA collects more information on tomatoes than on any other fruit or vegetable.

Tomatoes consumed in the United States are produced in various parts of the world, but the major suppliers are Florida, California and Mexico. Shipments throughout April are displayed in the accompanying table.

Tomato producers in the Mid-South strive to harvest tomatoes after the early crops in Florida and parts of Mexico have been harvested and before the later crops in California and western Mexico get into full production. After July 4, tomatoes often become abundant with several states having some level of commercial production and home gardens meeting the tomato needs of many consumers.

Tomato prices at the time of this writing are very good. According to USDA's daily Tomato Fax Report (www.ams.usda.gov/fv/mncs/tomf.pdf), farmers in Florida were receiving about $15 per 25-pound box for their mature green number one tomatoes in late April and early May. Farmers in Mexico were also receiving about $15 per box in early May for their vine ripe tomatoes in two layer flats. $7 per box is often considered a marginal price for field grown tomatoes in the Mid-South.

Once tomatoes leave the farm, many of them are shipped to a wholesale market somewhere in the United States. USDA collects daily price information from 15 wholesale markets (http://www.ams.usda.gov/fv/mncs/termveg.htm).

In late April and early May, tomatoes from Florida and Mexico were selling in the upper $10s and lower $20s at the St. Louis, Chicago and Dallas wholesale markets. Tomato prices at the Dallas market on the first Wednesday in May from 2000 to 2004 are displayed in the accompanying graph.

While the demand for tomatoes is increasing over time, much of the volatility in tomato prices comes from changes in supply. A bumper crop or crop disaster in a major production region can change tomato prices quickly. According to USDA's weekly report on tomato shipments dated May 4, 2004 (http://www.ams.usda.gov/fv/mncs/weekship.htm), Florida had shipped almost 7.5 million more boxes of tomatoes as of May 1 than at that same time last year (a 19 percent increase). Mexico, on the other hand, had shipped over 3 million boxes fewer than one year ago at this time (an 11 percent decrease).

The USDA also reports on shipping point trends (http://www.ams.usda.gov/fv/mncs/shiptren.htm). As of early May, shipments from central and south Florida were expected to increase slightly as the season progressed normally. Shipments from Mexico were expected to decrease as the season winds down.

2003 was an excellent year for tomato farmers in Arkansas. With shipments from the major production regions similar to those of last year, prices continue to remain very favorable. Things can change quickly in the vegetable business, so we will continue to follow the market. For more information on tomato markets or production, see your county agent.


Kelly Bryant, James Marshall, Rob Hogan and Scott Stiles are University of Arkansas Extension economists. Comments or questions? Call 870-460-1091 or e-mail bryantk@uamont.edu.

Tomato shipments by week for April 2004 (25,000-pound units)

Origin Mar 28-Apr 3 Apr 4-10 Apr 11-17 Apr 18-24 Apr 25-May1
Florida 1,639 1,785 1,894 1,575 1,647
Mexico 1,221 657 788 890 726
Other 2 1 1 0 0
Total 2,862 2,443 2683 2,465 2,373
(Source: USDA Weekly Shipments by Commodity: Tomatoes