The global tomato market has had some extreme ups and downs this season. Prices in many countries are up due to a lack of supply, pressure from ToBRV and the ever-increasing costs of production, including energy for those greenhouses growing with heat and light. In Italy, production costs are reported to have increased by 55% compared to last year, whilst Dutch and Belgian growers are considering the (dis)advantages of simply not turning the lights on this year if energy prices continue to rise. Production in Spain is down a quarter of its usual supply due to bad weather during the growing season, with South Africa suffering similar conditions, but with less losses. Meanwhile in North America prices are under pressure due to an oversupply due to the production area rising year on year. All in all, a challenging season for tomatoes worldwide.
The Netherlands and Belgium: Both countries face interesting season in terms of prices and ToBRV
The longest day is behind us. June was an above-average warm and sunny month, with an average of 60 sunshine hours more than normal. Tomato growers in the Netherlands and Belgium are in full production. Even those who started the season later due to energy constraints.
In the meantime, growers are already thinking about the coming cultivation under lights. Is it worth to continue growing this winter with heating and lighting? That question is still hanging over the market. At the moment decisions are being made in negotiations between growers, cooperatives and the supermarkets. Different voices are heard. What the area under lights will be next winter is still uncertain. What does seem certain is that the acreage will again be lower than before the energy crisis.
Last winter, the volumes were dozens of percent lower than normal and this was still the case until deep into the spring. Only in the last few weeks have the volumes reached levels comparable to previous years. In fact, since last summer prices have been above average compared to the five-year average. Not insignificant, now that growers on the other hand have to deal with an enormous increase in the costs of, among other things, energy and fertilisers.
Since February, the price for a kilo of tomatoes has been dropping. Nothing unusual. However, the prices are coming from much higher levels than normal. In May, prices in the Netherlands dropped more than elsewhere in Europe and more than in recent years, but they were still above the five-year average.
In the last full week of June, the price for a kilo of tomatoes at the Belgian auctions came close to the five-year average. Lower prices during the summer are not unusual. As soon as crops are grown all over Europe, including in less high-tech greenhouses, the supply of tomatoes is ample. However, last year was different, when due to the Tomato brown rugose fruit virus (ToBRFV) and disappointing summer weather, the volumes were considerably lower, sometimes even resulting in 'winter prices'.
ToBRFV is still hanging over the market. Growers with infections are still coming forward and it appears that growers can sometimes become infected again. Meanwhile, the first varieties with resistances are being tested in greenhouses by practical growers. It is known that virus symptoms manifest themselves quicker when the crop is under stress. This is often the case when there is a lot of radiation and the crop is fully bearing. Apart from price and energy developments, the coming summer is therefore also exciting from a virus point of view.
Germany: Domestic cultivation grows, but Dutch and Belgian tomatoes still dominate
Dutch and Belgian supplies are currently dominating the German market. All in all, the supply was limited. Domestic and Italian offers are also decreasing a little, supplies from Poland, Spain and France are of a supplementary nature at most.
In general, the demand can be satisfied without major efforts. At several wholesale markets, prices are increasing slightly.
The volume of domestic tomatoes seems to have increased in recent years. Especially in North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria and East Germany, several greenhouses were whether built or expanded. However, high gas prices and other cost increases due to the Ukrainian war are also worrying German growers. Regarding import tomatoes, the Netherlands is still the main supplier with a total volume of between 380,000 and 400,000 tons per year. Spain (160-190,000 tons), Belgium (55-70,000 tons) and Morocco (40-55,000 tons) follow at a considerable distance.
France: Lowest tomato prices in 2022 so far
Last week in France, there were promotions on grape tomatoes in some supermarkets, which made the prices rather good (high) on the open market. The demand was good, so the market was balanced. This week, on the other hand, there is no promotion in place, and the weather during the weekend having been rather uncertain everywhere in France, the demand was not able to absorb the production, which makes that the prices fell. The lowest prices of the year 2022 were observed this week.
UK: British growers persevere despite challenging year
Against the odds, British growers are on track to produce the usual 100,000 tons of tomatoes this year, according to an industry body.
The combination of the rising cost of gas, disrupted global supply chains, ongoing labour shortages, and low light levels in some parts of the country have made this a tough year for growers.
Data from an insights specialist shows that tomato sales are up by +2.7% from last year, and demand for premium is soaring – up +32% compared to 2020. Top varieties include Piccolo, up by +28.6% since last year, Vine Tomatoes, up by +19%, and Cherry on Vine, +16.9%.
“British tomato growers haven’t faced anything like this before,” said a grower in Worcestershire. “I’ve been in the sector for two decades, and this is the toughest year we’ve faced. It’s been a perfect storm and, as a result, has been very hard work for everyone across the industry. Covid was tricky, but this goes way beyond that. Fortunately, as tomato growers, we are a resilient bunch.”
British tomato growers have needed to move fast to work with retail partners and suppliers on timings and logistics. Some have delayed planting and then ramped production up to make the most of better light levels as spring moves into summer. Others have juggled staff shifts to make sure fruit reaches shops at the right time.
“As a sector, we’re ahead of the curve in doing more with less – over the years, we’ve seen incredible innovation around reducing the energy needed to grow tomatoes and tapping into renewable energy sources. There has also been significant investment in technical aspects of growing – honing techniques, so we know exactly how to get the best out of a tomato plant," said an industry specialist.
“Against the odds, we are set for an excellent quality crop with good supply levels over the coming months."
Italy: Tomato production costs up over 55% compared to last year
In general, the production supply present in Italian markets has decreased compared to previous years.
A producer in northern Italy, with many hectares of greenhouses, says beef tomatoes are paid around 0.60-0.70 EUR/kg, well below production costs. In order to have a satisfactory income it should be paid over 1 EUR/kg. In 2021 it took 45,000 EUR to grow one hectare of greenhouse tomatoes; this year it has risen to 70,000 EUR. The producer says: "For more than a month we have been seeing these low prices. Things are slightly better if you sell directly to retailers, while if you deliver to wholesale markets there is practically no demand."
In Campania and Lazio, production areas for table tomatoes have been reduced this year because of the 35 percent increase in production costs. On the trade front, there are two different scenarios: in Campania those who have the product, mainly the oblong and elongated varieties, are being compensated well; in Lazio, sales are proceeding slowly and consumption is not exciting.
In Sicily, after a fairly satisfactory season, with high prices due more to a lack of product due to ToBRFV than anything else, table tomato prices have been falling since early June. Undoubtedly contributing to the reduced availability of tomatoes on European markets has been the decline in heated greenhouse product due to energy price increases, which have forced companies to halt their production. Mainly Poland, but also central and northern European countries, which had been producing even in winter tomatoes in high tech greenhouses for some time now, had to give way and lose market share to competitors.
Spain: Tomato production volume drops by 25%
Production in Almería and Granada is very limited in June. Most of the tomato plantations have been uprooted and work has begun to prepare the horticultural farms for the next campaign. The plantations in the open air located in the north of the provinces of Almería and Granada take over from greenhouse production. This production will be traded mainly in the national market. At the same time, Spain currently imports tomatoes mainly from the Netherlands.
The area planted with greenhouse tomatoes in Spain has been reduced by 4% this year compared to the previous campaign, in favour of crops such as courgette, pepper and aubergine. Thus, a downward trend in the tomato area has been maintained in the last 5 campaigns. Tomato production volumes have also been reduced by around 25% due to the influence of bad weather and haze. Export volumes have fallen by almost 10% and, although prices have been notably higher compared to the previous campaign, the decrease in kilos per hectare and the increase in production costs do not suggest a very successful campaign, although it hasn't been bad either. In the month of August, tomato transplants will begin in Almería, the main producing area in Spain, for the 2022/2023 campaign.
South Africa: Unusually high tomato prices drop drastically
Weather has played an unusually large role in winter tomato production, with unseasonal rain in parts of north-eastern Limpopo and frost elsewhere, which, along with cold and overcast conditions, have kept back volumes from the market.
As a result, tomato prices were unusually high at the start of June, but have recently dropped drastically as volumes finally start catching up and tomato traders expect prices to continue moving downwards throughout the next two months.
Last week a kilogram of class 1 tomatoes sold for between R15 (0.89 euro) and R16 (0.94 euro) but it is now at between R10 and R12 a kg. The average price for tomatoes on the municipal market is R12,14 (0.72 euro) per kg.
China: Market cannot digest large amounts of summer vegetables
Since June pandemic control measures have come to an end in many places and normal workings of the market have been restored. Vegetables prices, however, have remained low.
Tomato prices have dropped from earlier higher levels, and in some areas prices are lower than last year. In Yunnan, current tomato prices hover around 0.7 to 1 Yuan per kg (0.15 USD). Volumes are large and overall prices are low.
In Beijing and neighbouring Hebei wholesale market prices hover around 1.5 Yuan per box. Now many growing areas have come in production prices have declined here too. Tomatoes from Inner Mongolia recently also entered the market, so there is no reason to assume that prices in the near future will increase.
Generally, the market cannot consumer the current amount of summer vegetables, including tomatoes. Yet some varieties manage to fetch higher prices on the market, including the Shandong ShouGuang Pink tomatoes.
North America: Tomato supplies continue to grow, putting pressure on prices
Tomato supplies in North America are shifting right now to include many of the local deals seen at this time of year around the country.
One Florida-based grower-shipper says now that Florida’s season is wrapped up, states such as Arkansas, Tennessee and South Carolina have started local production and Alabama is about a week away. Coming on soon after the July 4th weekend is also New Jersey and Michigan. All of these are largely open-field local production.
“And there’s also California production trickling in through Baja California into San Diego. And as you go up the coast, the California deal also coincides with the midsection of the U.S. They’ve been picking and packing already,” he says.
At the same time, Mexico is still in Roma, round, grape and cherry tomatoes and its greenhouse tomato production goes virtually year-round. “There are more greenhouses in the U.S.--even the Midwest in Tennessee and Kentucky, but also Ohio. The U.S. has gained a lot of greenhouse production of tomatoes,” he says. And then there’s Canadian greenhouse tomatoes as well which he says seems to last longer and longer into the season each year.
Overall…there are a lot of tomatoes. “I think that there’s more and more expansion of farms. There definitely continues to be added acreage,” he says.
There is also a lot of development around the types of tomatoes. “They continue to develop new seed for better flavour tomatoes or ones that last longer on the shelf, or have a better Brix count for a sweeter tomato or redder colour. They’re constantly innovating to appeal more to consumer tastes,” he says.
And this is all making way into the allotted space for tomatoes, which he says continues to be a top category in the grocery store. “There are still the core tomatoes: cherry, grape, Romas, rounds and TOV. But occasionally they’ll throw in some new varieties to see how consumers will respond to them,” he says.
Meanwhile demand is more spread out currently given all the local deals that are underway. “And retailers tend to want local U.S. tomatoes for their shelves at this time of year. Demand will increase into July 4th and after that, there’s more demand for local tomatoes,” he says. “However we’re also watching at this time of year to see if those local tomatoes can hold up to the weather. Whether it’s heat, rain, storms or something else, can they continue to supply the grocery stores without showing quality issues?”
Along with watching the added tomato volume available at this time of year, growers and shippers also continue to contend with an issue that hasn’t gone away: the effect of COVID on the workforce. “The packing houses continue to have this challenge with COVID and available workforce. As we’ve seen some cases increase, will we have enough pickers out there picking? How much will labour be affected by surges in the area?”
What also continues to challenge growers in particular are the increasing farm costs from inputs such as fertilizer, packaging, fuel and more. “It all continues to rise which makes it difficult for pricing. We’d like to see better pricing out there with these costs. But with the amount of tomatoes in so many different areas, it’s a lot less than where we want it to be. There’s just too much availability for demand at this point,” he says.
He adds what would likely only change pricing in the near future would be a crop affected by local weather and thus, impacting availability.
Mexico: Good projections for what is already the world's largest tomato exporter
Mexico is the main tomato exporter in the global market, with shipments that in 2020 amounted to 1,826 million tons according to the latest data available. In a recent event dedicated to this vegetable whose per capita consumption in the country amounts to 13.4 kg, a government representative highlighted that in 2020: "The country had more than 45,000 hectares, which allowed us to achieve a production of 3,371 million tons. This figure is 9.5% higher than the average of the last 10 years.”
Sinaloa stands out in its production, which contributes 20% of the national production, followed by San Luis de Potosí, Michoacán, Baja California Sur, Zacatecas, Morelos, Puebla and Jalisco. The aforementioned representative also highlighted that the tomato is one of the most technologically advanced crops and one of the most profitable, since "it is estimated that about a third of the cultivated area is in protected agriculture, from which 67% of the total volume of production is obtained. In addition, it stands out as the vegetable that is most cultivated both for national consumption and for export, making Mexico a benchmark in the world market."
“The United States is the main destination for our exports, but we also send this important product to Canada, Japan, the United Arab Emirates or Singapore. As for imports, they are minimal and come entirely from the United States. This has allowed us to maintain a tomato trade balance with a surplus of 2,306 million dollars in 2021."
And the projections are still very positive. According to a USDA report on forecasts for the tomato campaign in Mexico published this June, "assuming normal conditions for outdoor cultivation and continued growth in the use of greenhouse and shade technologies in the sector, it is projected that the production of fresh tomatoes in Mexico for the commercial year 2022/23 -from October to September- equals the official estimated production for this campaign 2021/22 of 3.7 million tons", highlighting that "in order to obtain greater yields, Mexican growers continue to transition from open fields to more controlled production under protected farming methods.”
"Exports to the United States will also remain strong due to the available exportable supply and stable domestic consumption," the document added, forecasting that in the 2022/23 season they will amount to 1.9 million tons. “Mexico continues to be the largest supplier of fresh tomatoes to the United States and, as a result, is the world's largest exporter of fresh tomatoes. Based on available data and the pace of trade, the publication estimates that exports for 2021/22 will reach 1.7 million tonnes, a marginal decrease from the previous year.
“Although exports to the United States are made throughout the year and consistently above 100,000 tons per month, the largest volume of exports generally takes place from January to March. In 2020/21, Mexico exported more than 1.76 million tons of tomatoes to the United States, with an estimated market share of 91%.” In fact, the United States absorbs almost all of Mexico's exportable fresh tomato supply, highlights the USDA. Mexican imports of fresh tomatoes, meanwhile, were just 640 tons in 2020/21; an amount, as highlighted by the US body itself, "insignificant".
Next week: Global Overview Grapes!