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Drought-Defying Tomato Harvest Breaks California Record

Dale Kasler, Sacramento Bee

Not even an epic drought could stop the familiar convoy of agricultural trucks hurtling down Central Valley freeways this year, brimming with freshly harvested tomatoes. Defying the state’s devastating water shortage, California farmers produced a record tomato crop.

In this May 2, 2014 photo, farmworkers plant tomatoes in Yuba City.

The harvest came in at an estimated 14 million tons of processing tomatoes. Those are the type used to make sauce, salsa and other products, and represent about 96 percent of all the tomatoes grown in California.

In a year when most commodities saw declines in production, the tomato crop was 16 percent larger than last year. It surpassed the old record of 13.3 million tons harvested in 2009, according to the California Tomato Growers Association.

“It’s remarkable, simply remarkable that tomatoes weren’t negatively impacted,” said David Goldhamer, an emeritus water management specialist with the University of California Cooperative Extension.

The bountiful crop didn’t happen by accident. Fearful of possible shortages, tomato processors agreed to pay a record price to growers: $83 a ton, up from $70 a year ago. That prompted many farmers throughout the state, home to more than 95 percent of the nation’s tomatoes, to dedicate a greater percentage of their land and water to tomatoes. An additional 30,000 acres of tomatoes were planted compared to a year ago.

“We wound up with a pretty strong tomato price,” said Darrin Williams, who raises a variety of crops in the Arbuckle area. “It got the crop grown.”

While statistics aren’t yet available on fresh tomatoes, like the kinds sold in supermarkets, it appears they enjoyed a strong harvest as well, at least in Northern California. Jim Boyce, owner of Produce Express wholesalers in Sacramento, said he saw an approximately 25 percent surge in supplies from growers within a 100-mile radius. Similar to the market for processing tomatoes, prices for fresh were higher than a year ago, he said.

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