Tomato farmers getting squeezed by drought
(CNN) – For 25 years, Aaron Barcellos has grown tomatoes in California’s Central Valley.
But between the crushing three-year drought and the rising cost of growing tomatoes, farmers like Barcellos are feeling the squeeze as their margins get sliced and diced.
“We had a little over 500 acres. We fallowed over 2000 acres of ground that normally go to tomatoes. We just did not have the water to go ahead and grow…during a drought, our water triples and quadruples in price as well,” said Barcellos, a farmer at A-Bar Ag Enterprises.
But it’s not just water.
Due to inflation, farmers are also paying more for fuel and fertilizers – those added costs then reflected in consumer products.
Take a summertime to drive to Interstate 5 through the Central Valley and it’s nearly impossible to miss the trucks or tomatoes being hauled straight from harvest to production.
“95% of the processed tomato products consumed in the United States come right here from California’s Central Valley,” said Mike Montna, president and CEO of California Tomato Growers Association.
“As California’s tomato growers are at the end of their harvesting season, there just hasn’t been enough tons of tomatoes to harvest this year versus last year, which means there’s less to go around, which means prices will go up – something that consumers will feel when they go to the grocery store,” said Montna.
These are tomatoes that become ingredients in sauces, soups and salsas.
The California Tomato Growers Association says its members produced about 14% fewer tomatoes this year than originally intended.
“What makes this different is this is about our fourth year in a row of having a shorter crop than what we wanted. Ultimately, it does come down to the water.”
Barcellos said the climate in the Central Valley area has “definitely changed.” He says they are seeing hotter streaks in summer and more extremes between cool and warm temperatures.
Barcellos says tomato crop yields across the state have steadily declined over the last decade.
As for his family’s operation, tomatoes may soon be out of the mix.
“Right now, we don’t have any acres scheduled for tomatoes next year, unless tomato prices in the field get to a level where we think we have a chance of making money, we’re going to go do something else with those open acres.”