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Will Tomato Crop Hit USDA Estimates?

While a record 15.0 million tons of tomatoes are estimated to be harvested in California this coming year by the USDA, a couple of red flags have appeared to cast doubt if the number will be hit.

The state’s drought is entering is fourth consecutive year and with limited water supplies again this year, California farmers could be forced to leave fields idle in order to save water. Growers across the state are cutting back on plantings and significant acreage remains uncultivated due to the water restrictions. While tomato seedling transplant companies saw a 10% increase in production the last two years, they have expressed doubt that that number will be hit again.

Even as it faced water shortage issues last year, California farmers produced a record tomato crop in 2014. The harvest came in at an estimated 14 million tons of processing tomatoes. In a year when most commodities saw declines in production, the tomato crop was 16% larger than last year as it surpassed the old record of 13.3 million tons harvested in 2009, according to the California Tomato Growers Association.

While water has been an ongoing concern that has been successfully managed, a new threat recently reemerged with the return of a virus that ravaged the tomato crop in Central San Joaquin Valley in 2013. Recent inspections in Fresno and Kings counties turned up a high number of beet leafhoppers, the insect responsible for spreading beet curly top virus. A few rainstorms helped a strong crop of weeds sprout in the Coast Range hills. In 2013, the estimated harvest was 13.1 million tons; due to the damage of the virus, state farmers harvested 12.1 million tons.