Hanna Y. Hanna, Coolman, Denise | 4/26/2005 8:28:22 PM
BOSSIER CITY – "Lucky is the tomato grower who has tomatoes for sale now," said Dr. H.Y. Hanna of the LSU AgCenter.
Hanna was referring to a nationwide tomato shortage that has hit the United States – more than doubling the price of tomatoes. The shortage is a result of hurricanes that hit Florida in August and September, destroying tomato crops that were expected to be sold this month.
Hanna, whose research at the LSU AgCenter’s Red River Research Station focuses on growing greenhouse tomatoes, said most of the field-grown tomatoes sold in Louisiana come from Florida and Mexico, and most greenhouse tomatoes come from Colorado and Canada – although some of them are produced here, as well.
"Most of the tomatoes grown in Louisiana are produced and sold locally during the May to August months," Hanna said. "The rest have to be shipped in."
The average consumer eats about 20 pounds of tomatoes annually, according to Hanna. Based on the latest population figures for the state from the U.S. Census Bureau, Louisiana’s 4.5 million citizens probably eat close to 90 million pounds of tomatoes each year.
"That’s a lot of tomatoes," Hanna said.
Although Louisiana has a growing tomato industry, which produced nearly 20 million pounds of tomatoes in 2003, that still falls short of the state’s consumption.
"As you can see, consumption is more than production here," Hanna said. "The price for tomatoes right now is very high. This is good for the producer, but bad for the consumer."
A number of LSU AgCenter faculty members work on research and educational efforts to support the state’s tomato industry and to help growers maximize production here.
The LSU AgCenter’s 2003 Louisiana Summary of Agriculture and Natural Resources shows a total of 19.79 million pounds of tomatoes worth approximately $15 million were grown in fields and greenhouses here last year.
Hanna predicts the current nationwide shortage of tomatoes could be over by December.
Meanwhile, he says there’s one place where tomato prices haven’t risen. That’s at the LSU AgCenter’s Red River Research Station near Bossier City.
Hanna grows tomatoes in greenhouses at the research station as part of his work on finding the most economical and productive methods for commercial growers. What’s produced there also is sold to the public to support the research work.
The fall harvest of the tomatoes at the research station is under way, and Hanna said one variety, Quest, is doing "very well." Geronimo is another variety that is showing promise, according to Hanna.
"Geronimo is a new variety that we’re testing," Hanna said. "This is the first year that we’ve planted it. In a consumer taste test of 23 people, 17 people rated it No. 1 as far as taste and six people rated it No. 2 as far as taste is concerned."
Shelf life – the amount of time from harvest that a fruit or vegetable stays marketable – is another characteristic of Geronimo that looks good, the researcher said.
"It has a shelf life equal to Quest," Hanna said. "The shelf life is one week. That is good for producers."
Tomatoes for sale at the LSU AgCenter’s Red River Research Station are available at the front office. For information, call (318) 741-7430.
For more information on the research and educational efforts of the LSU AgCenter – which cover topics ranging from nutrition and family life to agricultural production and community economic development – visit www.lsuagcenter.com.