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Bob Moon:What do you say — to-may-toe or to-mah-to? Either way, many farmers want to call the whole thing off right about now. First, there was the salmonella scare in 2008. Then this winter, Florida suffered a cold snap, which delayed the growing season. Tomato prices went sky high because of the resulting shortage. You might remember your cheeseburger being a little naked. Many restaurants quietly took tomatoes off the menu. Well, now it seems farmers have been able to catch up. In fact, they have more than they know what to do with. And prices are so low, many of those juicy beauties might never make it off the vine.
Janet Babin reports.
Janet Babin: Florida lost about two-thirds of its winter tomato crop to a deep freeze. This past winter, you couldn’t get a decent tomato in some places. Restaurants didn’t serve them, or made customers ask for them. More cold weather followed.
Lisa Lochridge is with the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association.
Lisa Lochridge: The continued cold weather just slowed everything down, and then when it did warm up, everything was ready for harvest all at once. This year, Mother Nature did not play fair with us at all.
It costs farmers about $8 to produce a 25-pound box of tomatoes. Now, that box sells for just $5. Florida estimates the glut has put a $100 million dent in its produce market.
Reggie Brown is with the Florida Tomato Committee.
Reggie Brown: The market has pretty well imploded around us — probably the worst situation we’ve had in 25, 30 years.
The glut has spread across the country to the 25 other tomato-growing states. Marco Dimare’s company grows more than 2,000 acres of tomatoes in California. It’s harvest time now, but he might leave some tomatoes in his fields for food banks to pick up.
Marco Dimare: You look to cut where you can cut and conserve where you can conserve, and it’s all about dollar-cost averaging at the end of the season.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to help; it snapped up more than 31 million pounds of tomatoes through federal food assistance programs.
Marco Dimare would like to offer another solution.
Dimare: Just eat more tomatoes. They’re good for ya.
I’m Janet Babin for Marketplace.
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