Florida Tomato Leader Optimistic Amid Plethora of Challenges

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By Clint Thompson

One tomato industry expert voiced his optimism Wednesday about the upcoming season despite numerous challenges facing Florida growers this year.

Florida tomatoes

Speaking Wednesday at the Florida Tomato Conference in Labelle, Florida, Michael Schadler, manager of the Florida Tomato Committee and executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, highlighted the strengths and challenges of Florida’s tomato industry ahead of growers beginning to plant this year’s crop.

“We’re getting going now. There’s a lot of guys planting. They’re laying plastic. Actually, in north Florida, we’ll get going at the end of this month,” Schadler said. “But we’re optimistic. We had a good crop last year. The market didn’t always cooperate. Prices were down a little bit last year, and our costs were up. Everybody is suffering the higher costs. If you can’t pass that on to your customer, that can’t be sustainable for very long. The markets have been good over the summer. We’re hoping those will continue into the fall.”

Inflation is not the only challenge for Florida producers. Almost three years later, COVID-19 remains a factor. That has not deterred Schadler’s positive outlook for the season.

“Last fall and into the early winter, we had some problems with COVID. We had lockdowns in the northeast, a big market for Florida tomatoes, and lockdowns in Canada. Our bread and butter is food service for the Florida tomato,” Schadler said. “Food service, even though people are back in restaurants, the landscape has changed a little bit. Some of those independents have gone out of business. There’s been a reorganization in food service, and the market is still trying to figure it out a little bit.

“We need that demand to come back more robustly than it did last season. If we can get that demand back, have a good crop like we did last year, I think prices will start to go up, and they need to.”