Processing Tomatoes – From The Farm To Your Table
The production of processing tomatoes in the Central Valley changes each year as growers, processors, and buyers all try to navigate conditions inside the field as well as far beyond the soil between Bakersfield and Northern California. Acreage in California is determined each year by the number and size of contracts handed out by processors. Tomatoes are the second most consumed processed product in the United States. 96% of processed tomatoes are produced in California. California produces twice the amount of tomatoes compared to the number two producer Italy. 2017 was a difficult year with major reductions in acreage compared to the previous years as well as a very wet spring and difficult heat waves as fruit was beginning to size on the plants. 2017 ended with 11% fewer tons being produced, in a state that averages 50 tons per acre. Going forward, 2018 will likely see a small increase of 3% in total acreage planted, totaling 240,000 acres.
Price for processing tomatoes is determined by the processors at the beginning of each season as they contract growers. Over the past five years, the price per ton has decreased each year. The peak price was averaged around $80 per ton, prior to harvest and haul costs. Price has fallen each year due to rising inventories of tomato paste as record crops came back-to-back. Also, exports have decreased in the previous two years because of a strengthening U.S. dollar. This is important because 20% of California processing tomatoes are exported around the world.
Drip irrigation is the number one method for irrigating processing tomatoes in California. Drip irrigation is responsible for the changing yield potential in all areas across the state. Growers can achieve yields as high as 70 tons per acre with drip irrigation, compared to 40 tons with furrow irrigation. Most processing tomatoes are grown using SDI systems. Each row of tomatoes is 60”, 66”, 72” or 80” apart, center-to-center. One line of drip tape per row is most common but some soils and growers use two. Tomatoes can have an Et demand higher than permanent crops such as almonds and pistachios during the peak heat of summer and fruit development. The annual water use for a processing tomato crop is 25-30” per acre.
My first processing tomato irrigation system, using Jain Cascade drip tape.
The processing tomato industry will be similar to what we saw last year in California with no major increases in acreage and likely a slightly lower price. These changes will push growers to look at alternatives to plant as either new contracts will not be available or pencil out for certain sized operations. This industry will continue to be important for Jain Irrigation long-term as Cascade drip tape has performed exceptionally well as a multi-year SDI product. Chapin BTF and DLX will continue to be strong performers for single season growers who get contracts in increased acreage years, especially with the development and success of 7/8” 5mil.