Make us your home page
Instagram

Florida growers: Impact of tomato scare could hit $500-million

Tomatoes are sorted by workers at the Taylor & Fulton Packing in Palmetto on Wednesday. Tomatoes grown in Ruskin, Palmetto and Quincy in North Florida were cleared of any link to a salmonella outbreak.

SKIP O\u2019ROURKE | Times

Tomatoes are sorted by workers at the Taylor & Fulton Packing in Palmetto on Wednesday. Tomatoes grown in Ruskin, Palmetto and Quincy in North Florida were cleared of any link to a salmonella outbreak.

PALMETTO — Florida's tomato scare may be over for consumers, but the nightmare is just beginning for the state's growers. Stuck for days with tons of tomatoes shunned by retailers and shoppers, Florida's producers say the economic impact of this week's salmonella scare ultimately could reach more than $500-million in lost product, lost sales and lost future business.

And if that's not tough enough: The loss will not be covered by crop insurance, which kicks in when there are natural disasters.

Brian Turner, vice president of Taylor & Fulton Packaging in Palmetto, said a hurricane or freeze would have been better than waiting to be placed on the Food and Drug Administration's "safe to eat" list.

On Saturday, the FDA advised against eating red round and Roma tomatoes from Florida and other states after an outbreak of salmonella affected more than 150 people in 17 states. The FDA is still investigating the source of the outbreak, which was concentrated in Western states.

"Insurance doesn't protect you from somebody leaving you off a list," said Turner, whose workers were busy sorting green tomatoes tumbling down a conveyor belt Wednesday afternoon.

The scene at Taylor & Fulton was repeated throughout packinghouses in Palmetto, Ruskin and Quincy in North Florida on Wednesday as growers desperately tried to salvage the season. To ship tomatoes, growers have to certify the crop was grown in one of 19 counties and harvested after May 1. The new requirement added another layer of paperwork and state inspection to growers' processes.

Bob Spencer, sales manager of West Coast Tomato in Palmetto, said his staff was busy matching field tickets to boxed tomatoes to verify the crop was safe. Buyers, meanwhile, were dealing with a backlog of inventory and trying to gauge consumer demand before placing new orders.

"It will take 36 to 72 hours to figure out how the public will react to this," Spencer said. "And it will take a while for Burger King and Subway to get tomatoes back into their systems."

Spencer and other growers said they were still trying to put a number on their losses, though an industry association estimated it would be more than 10 times earlier projections.

"I probably have a half-million boxes at the other end that might not get paid for," said Spencer, whose company usually ships 4.5-million 25-pound boxes each year. "If this were to happen another time, where overnight we had nowhere to sell our product, it might be enough to force people out of business."

The FDA's warning system was criticized by several growers, who said it leads to overreactions on the part of both retailers and consumers. The salmonella outbreak that led to the ban on Florida's tomatoes began in mid April, before the crop that is now being harvested was being widely distributed. And though much of Florida's crop is distributed in-state, not a single case of the strain of salmonella that is of concern has been diagnosed in Florida.

"We want to have some serious discussions with the FDA when we're through this crisis," Spencer said. "We've got to make a decision about how much money we're going to put in the ground (in crops) next year."

At Taylor & Fulton, president Jim Grainger said the company would plant the same size crop next year, despite fear that a food scare could happen again.

"The one thing about farmers is, they're resilient," Grainger said. "If you sit here and just dwell on it, it will eat you up."

Kris Hundley can be reached at hundley@sptimes.com or

(727) 892-2996. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

>>Fast facts

Tops in the field

Though Florida is known for its citrus, sugar cane and strawberries, vegetables are a $1.7-billion business for the state, and tomatoes are the biggest contributor to that by far. Here's how the values of Florida's top three vegetable crops compare:

1. Tomatoes: about $500-million

2. Bell peppers: about $175-million

3. Snap beans: about $60-million

Source: Florida Agricultural Market Research Center, University of Florida

Florida growers: Impact of tomato scare could hit $500-million 06/11/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 12, 2008 3:06pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. National economy off to a luckluster start this year

    Business

    WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy got off to a lackluster start during the first three months of 2017, though it enjoyed more momentum than earlier estimates indicated.

    he U.S. economy got off to a lackluster start during the first three months of 2017, though it enjoyed more momentum than earlier estimates indicated.
[Associated Press file photo]
  2. Last steel beam marks construction milestone for Tom and Mary James' museum

    Growth

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom and Mary James on Wednesday signed their names to the last steel beam framing the 105-ton stone mesa that will be built at the entrance of the museum that bears their name: the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art.

    The topping-out ceremony of the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art was held Wednesday morning in downtown St. Petersburg. Mary James (from left), husband Tom and Mayor Rick Kriseman signed the final beam before it was put into place. When finished, the $55 million museum at 100 Central Ave. will hold up to 500 pieces of the couple's 3,000-piece art collection. [Courtesy of James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art]
  3. Heights Public Market to host two Tampa Bay food trucks

    Business

    TAMPA — The Heights Public Market announced the first two food trucks for its "rotating stall," which will feature new restaurants every four months. Surf and Turf and Empamamas will be rolled out first.

    Heights Public Market is opening this summer inside the Tampa Armature Works building.
[SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times file photo]

  4. Author Randy Wayne White could open St. Pete's biggest restaurant on the pier

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — The story begins with Yucatan shrimp.

    St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, pilot Mark Futch, Boca Grande, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and author and businessman Randy Wayne White,  Sanibel, exit a Maule Super Rocket seaplane after taking a fight around Tampa Bay off the St. Petersburg waterfront, 6/28/17.  White and his business partners are in negotiations with the City of St. Petersburg to build a fourth Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille on the approach to the St. Petersburg Pier with a second event space on the pier according to White. The group met near Spa Beach after a ground breaking ceremony for the new pier. "We want to have our business open by the time the pier opens," said White. Other Dr. Ford restaurants are located on Sanibel, Captiva and Ft. Myers Beach. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
  5. Guilty plea for WellCare Health Plans former counsel Thaddeus Bereday

    Business

    Former WellCare Health Plans general counsel Thaddeus M.S. Bereday pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the Florida Medicaid program, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set, acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District …

    WellCare Health Plans former general counsel Thaddeus M.S. Bereday, pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the Florida Medicaid program, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set, acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District of Florida stated Wednesday. [LinkedIn handout]