'One of the best' tomato seasons ends

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By Alice Du Pont


A milder than usual spring brought the tomato crop in early for some farmers this year. Graves Williams at Gadsden Tomato Company said his last day in the packinghouse was June 18.

"We're through, we've shut down,” Williams said Tuesday morning, while overseeing the closing of his packinghouse on Graves Street. “It was one of the best seasons that we've had in the past three or four years. It wasn't the best but at least we'll make a little.”

"Most of them have shut down. I think it's (the season) about over. The only one left operating is Gargiulo," said Harvey Suber, president of the Gadsden County Tomato Growers Association.

As for how much this year's crop will pump into the local economy, Suber didn't want to speculate.

"It seems that the people on the street know more than we know about how much the growers will make. We won't know until we've had the returns. Everybody can tell you what it's worth but we won't know until we get paid," he said.

The number of tomato growers in the county has dwindled. This year, according to Suber, there are only four tomato growers operating. He said it was a combination of several years when farmers suffered losses due to bad weather and low prices.

Plus, tomatoes have a narrow window for growth. The Gadsden County season, mainly for Beefsteak and Roma varieties, is sandwiched between the South Florida and California seasons. If growers miss the mark they suffer financially.

This year Williams' crop hit the mark precisely. Most years the picking and shipping last from June 1 through July 1 and again from Oct. 1 through Oct. 31. But Suber agrees that anytime farmers can bring in crops between May 15 and June 15, they are likely to get the highest price offered for that part of the growing year.