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High temperatures, high production and labour costs, and variable prices colour the global tomato market at the moment. In the Netherlands, growers are rekindling their operations under lights after a year of sparing energy use, witnessing a surge in tomato prices alongside concerns about the Tomato Brown Rugose Fruit Virus and escalating labour costs.

Meanwhile, in Germany, smooth sales coexist with fluctuating prices, driven by dominant Belgian supplies for beef tomatoes and Turkish-Spanish origins for cherry tomatoes. France experiences a week of transition marked by low volumes and firm prices, accentuated by shortages in Belgian and Dutch products. Italy grapples with stabilizing prices for Sicilian table tomatoes and eyes organic opportunities, while Spain contends with a delayed tomato campaign start and fluctuating prices influenced by various factors. In South Africa, extreme temperatures shape tomato prices, reaching the highest point in four seasons, while North America faces a tighter supply scenario with strong demand for tomatoes.

The Netherlands: Growers turn on the lights again
The crops under lights are in full swing and the first traditional crops have been planted again to go into production next spring. The acreage under lights is a lot larger than last winter. About half of the area under lights before the outbreak of the energy crisis has returned after a year in which the use of lighting was sparse. This brings the acreage under lights to roughly 400 acres. There are also growers with an autumn crop with which they are in production until December or into early January.

Prices for both loose tomatoes and vine tomatoes are above average for the time of year. In both cases, prices on the Belgian clock, a key price reference, began to rise from early October. In recent weeks, there has been little movement in the average price, which is well above that of the past two years.

Tomato brown rugose fruit virus remains a focus of attention in cultivation. Officially, the Netherlands currently has 57 infected locations. Another point of attention remains labour. As of Jan. 1, the minimum wage in the Netherlands is going up again. It is up to growers to pass on these rising costs.

Belgium: After difficult last year, more lighted cultivation again
Compared to last year, there is again plenty of lighted cultivation in Belgium. "Whereas last year many decided to leave the lights off, we are now seeing volumes entering the market again. Still, we certainly see from Belgium that the specialities have lost volume, because people have opted more for loose or vine tomatoes, for example," says a Belgian trader. "Despite an increasing supply from Belgium, a large part of it continues to come from southern Europe and Morocco. Prices also remain at a high level for the time of year. These have actually been skyrocketing since a few months and do not seem to be coming down for the time being. Still, sales are running smoothly."

Germany: Smooth selling, but prices on the rise
The beef tomato market is dominated by Belgian supplies, followed by Spanish and Turkish origins. Cherry tomatoes came mainly from Italy and the Netherlands, with Spanish deliveries completing the supply.

The presence of vine tomatoes from Turkey and the Netherlands in particular was reduced, while the importance of Belgian and Spanish supplies increased slightly. The round tomato sector was dominated by Turkish and Moroccan origins.

They were also cheaper than the Dutch and Spanish varieties. In general, sales went smoothly. The quality was mostly convincing. However, prices developed quite differently, with price increases and falling valuations being observed. Wholesale prices, for example for Spanish tomatoes, are already above average and further price increases cannot be ruled out in view of the recent toll increase.

The domestic season mainly ended for about 2-3 weeks ago in the greenhouses with good results in both Germany and Austria, although the season started a few weeks later than in recent years. “Demand was still pleasing at the end of the season. We didn't have anything left over anywhere and were able to market our quantities without any problems,” an Austrian grower stresses.

France: A week of transition with very low volumes
Overall this week, trading was fairly calm, with very low volumes on the French market. Spanish production is fairly low in terms of volume, with rather high prices at 2 euros to 2.15 euros per vine (TOV). As for French production: "the old harvest is over and the new one is just beginning, with very small volumes and therefore currently high prices, up to 2.50 euros per bunch", according to one operator. This week is therefore a week of "scarcity", as it is a week of transition. "Some operators have stopped and others have not yet started up again". Belgian and Dutch products are also in short supply, with firm prices at 2.40 euros.

Italy: Difficult market for Sicilian table tomatoes
"The market for Sicilian table tomatoes is currently a little difficult, but despite the drop in prices, they are not going beyond the alarm threshold," says an experienced grower. "The times when the product was sold below cost seem to be over. The last time we sold at €0.50 was last year, right around this time, due to abnormal weather conditions. Margins are now quite slim, but at least we can cover our production costs. Cherry tomatoes are at 1.20-1.30 €/kg, plums and midi plums at 1.50 €/kg. At the moment we are not affected by the Spanish and Moroccan competition." The production is in very good condition and shows less and less pressure from the ToBRFV virus.

Almost 90% of Italian households buy tomatoes at least once a year, according to GfK Consumer Panel Services. This fruit is purchased more than 17 times a year, or about every 3 weeks, with an average weight of about 0.8 kg each time. Organic could be an opportunity for this category.

Morocco: Tomato is currently in turmoil
During the 2022-2023 season, the tomato has had significant impact on the European market. This was proven correct during Ramadan, when exports were halted. Morocco expanded its market diversification by exporting 727,000 tons of tomatoes last season. France is the primary importer of Moroccan tomatoes if it gets 50%, but in reality, a significant portion is shipped elsewhere.

18% is received by the United Kingdom, 9.5% is received by the Netherlands, and 6.6% is received by Spain. Tomatoes are among the 10 most exported products from Morocco. According to the Moroccan Exchange Office, tomato exports made up 2.4% of Morocco's total exports of all products, an increase of 35% in 2022-23.

Two major factors have slowed down Morocco's progress. The ToBRFV virus's impact is the first thing to consider. And secondly, the weather conditions this summer. The Souss region experienced the highest temperature recorded ever in Morocco. Over an extended period, temperatures were recorded between 48°C and 50°C. Because of this, seedlings that were supposed to be producing this winter were lost. Many producers had to replant, which caused a delay and a decline in the offer from October to December. Morocco's performance decreased by 24.5% compared to the previous season as of November 20th. Morocco and Europe saw a surge in prices because one-fourth of production was lost to the market.

Spain: Delay in the start of the campaign and rising prices
Tomato productions from Almería have taken over from other European horticultural productions that have ended, with rising prices. “This 2023/24 campaign has started with a certain delay compared to other years,” confirms an operator from Almería. “Either because the planting has been done later due to the heat issue, so as not to suffer the problems that occurred last year, or because the seedbeds seem to have been delayed a few days, the campaign is about 15-20 days late. compared to last year.”

“Until now, with less production, there has generally been a good price. But as we gain more kilos the prices are falling; for cucumber it has been a free fall with up to one euro less per kilo. However, we hope that the year will not be too bad in terms of prices because costs are not going down.”

For now, in the central week of November, tomatoes have registered prices above the average of the three previous campaigns. As the Prices and Markets Observatory of the Junta de Andalucía itself points out, “the limited Andalusian supply in this period, added to the end of the production campaigns in Central Europe and the problems in Moroccan tomato production, reduced by weather conditions and due to the tomato rugose virus, favours the prices registered by Andalusian horticulturalists.”

South Africa: Extreme temperature could mean early end for tomato season
South Africa has been experiencing extremely high temperatures – recently Augrabies in the Northern Cape was the hottest place on earth that day.

Ripe tomatoes have increased by 4% and over the past week prices decreased by 11% to R7.13 (0.34 euro) per kg, (R8.43 or 0.4 euro for extra large tomatoes).

Outside of retail programmes, most tomatoes go to the Johannesburg wholesale municipal market which has 45% of the national tomato market, followed by Gauteng’s other big market in Tshwane. Only then Cape Town, where the average price was over R2 higher than in Gauteng: R10 (0.49 euro) per kilogram.

Currently prices are the highest they’ve been in four seasons, even if volumes are up. Prices spiked in April and they spiked again in October, significantly higher than last year’s prices.

The effect of the power cuts on irrigation schedules, and therefore planted acreage and yield, is part of every discussion on vegetable production in South Africa. Sixty percent of South Africa’s tomatoes are grown in Limpopo, 17% in Mpumalanga, 8% in the Eastern Cape and 3% in North West province, which lies closest to Gauteng

A Johannesburg market agent noted prices were R12 to R15 (0.7 euro) per kg on Saladette tomatoes two weeks ago.

A single tomato grower in Limpopo is responsible for 70% to 85% of the tomatoes this time of the year.

Over the past six weeks this dominant tomato producer has been sending large volumes to the national markets, putting other tomato producers “under unbelievable pressure” says an industry source.

Volumes will probably dip due to sunburn and fruit abscission in the current heat, and tomato producers in the Cape will start cropping.

North America: Tighter supply on tomatoes
It’s an interesting time in tomatoes following a weaker market last week. This week, things are turning around even though tomato supply is short right now. In Florida, growing conditions have included a combination of cool days for the past week or two, weather temperatures that are cycling up and down and shorter days leading to shorter supply and not a lot of bigger sizes on tomatoes.

Romas, rounds and grape tomatoes have all been particularly short and seen strong pricing.

Meanwhile there is also tighter supply from Mexico due to weather--most recently, a lack of sunlight which also impacts greenhouse grown tomatoes in the country.

As for greenhouse production in Canada, it’s also finishing up due to colder temperatures and a lack of sunlight. However demand for tomatoes is strong given the tight supply. Grape tomato pricing is particularly strong in the high $50s/low $60s.

Next week: Global Market Overview Papaya!