MAITLAND, Florida, January
21, 2005 (ENS): The effects of last year's four Florida
hurricanes are still being felt across the state in the failure
of the tomato industry this winter, according to the Florida Fruit
& Vegetable Association, an agricultural trade organization.
Low consumer demand for tomatoes as a result of high prices means
hundreds of migrant farm workers across South Florida are out of
work, and growers are watching what crops they were able to bring
to maturity wither on the vines.
Consumers are balking at paying the high prices many supermarkets
are charging for tomatoes. A survey commissioned by Florida Fruit
& Vegetable Association of several eastern markets shows some
retailers are charging up to $4 per pound.
By contrast, Florida growers are receiving less than 15 cents per
pound - a price that does not recover the cost of harvesting and
packing. Growers cannot afford to hire workers with farm prices
"Supplies of tomatoes and other Florida crops were scarce
and prices were high following the hurricanes that hit Florida farms
last summer, but we've been close to normal volume since Thanksgiving,"
said Mike Stuart, president of Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association.
"If we can get consumers buying tomatoes again, we can get
the farm crews back to work."
"Because some of the farms have not been able to pick, that
translates into many harvesters not working, as well as some of
the workers in the packinghouses not working," said Tony DiMare,
president of DiMare Co. DiMare says some contractors have come to
growers looking for pay advances for the workers.
"People forget that farm workers are the ones who can least
afford to lose money during a market crisis like this," said
Barbara Mainster, executive director of Redlands Christian Migrant
Association, an organization that provides child care and educational
opportunities for migrant and rural children throughout the state
of Florida. "Every day that goes by that workers don't get
to pick tomatoes puts them further in the hole," Mainster said.
Relief for the grower, packer and worker may be on the way. Following
a tour of tomato fields January 18, Florida Agriculture Commissioner
Charles Bronson told farmers in South Miami-Dade County he will
launch a national campaign to urge large retailers to drop prices,
encourage demand and stimulate work opportunities for South Florida's
"For the sake of the workers who have come to Florida specifically
to pick tomatoes, peppers and other crops, growers, retailers and
food service distributors need to work together to prevent a human
disaster in South Florida," Mainster said.
But damage has already been done. "Because of the marketing
situation, if you're not able to pick and pack all your tomatoes,
that's going to have a major impact on the workers' revenue stream
at the end of the season," said DiMare.