High temperatures due to drought cause tomatoes to lose water, unable to meet the standard size and become smaller and smaller.
California has long been known as the world leader in the production of processed tomatoes, which are canned and used in a chain of commercial kitchens. However, extreme weather conditions and a 1,200-year history of extreme heat are leaving California farmers struggling to preserve their crops. The prices of a wide range of tomato-based dishes, including spaghetti sauce, are facing the risk of an unprecedented increase in prices.
“We really need rain. We are about to run out of inventory to continue to supply the market,” said Mike Montna, head of the California Tomato Growers Association.
According to Bloomberg, water scarcity is reducing tomato production in California, which contributes up to 25% of the world production. This has a big impact on tomato and ketchup prices, and could even cause them to rise faster than the US inflation rate, which is already at a 43-year high due to drought and tight supplies. After California’s climate change forecasts were released, the outlook for farming households here became even more bleak.
“It’s hard to grow a tomato plant right now. The first is that drought affects the cost of growing crops because you don’t have enough water to grow the plants. The second is inflation that causes farms and a range of costs from fuel to fertilizer to increase sharply,” Montna complained.
In addition, California’s restrictions on groundwater use are causing headaches for producers, including Woolf Farming. According to Rick Blankenship, vice president of agricultural operations, the cost of growing and processing tomatoes at the Fresno County headquarters is now about $4,800 per acre compared to $2,800 10 years ago. The increase has mainly occurred in the last 2 years.
“Productivity has dropped this year,” Blankenship said in an interview. “The high temperature caused by the drought caused the tomatoes to lose water and not be able to meet the standard size. Tomatoes are getting smaller and smaller.
The predicament makes the negotiated price of $105/ton tomato for this season, while already an all-time high, still not enough to overcome the industry’s challenges.
“You can see this is a farmer’s race. In fact, input costs have increased so much that we have lost most of our profits,” Blankenship said.
The lack of water is causing a series of farmers to consider switching crops in the hope of reaping the most profits. Bruce Rominger, a farmer, told Bloomberg that he has cut 90% of the rice area to make room for tomatoes. He hopes to earn a little bit from the 800-acre field that begins harvesting in July, knowing that this is exactly a gamble.
“This is a high risk crop and our yields are below average,” said Rominger.
If temperatures continue to soar, the supply of processed tomatoes in key regions over the next few decades. Of which, the US, Italy and China are expected to decline by 6% by 2050, according to a study published in Nature Food. A report in June also said heat and water restrictions could make it particularly difficult for California and Italy to maintain current levels of productivity.
California’s crop yielded a record 14.4 million tons in 2015. However, this year, that number is expected to drop to just 11.7 million tons, according to USDA data.
“We simply don’t have enough processed tomatoes to ensure that everyone is adequately supplied. Water is too expensive or not available for any price,” said R. Greg Pruett, director of sales and energy at Ingomar Packing Co., one of the world’s largest tomato processors.