The first three weeks of the season showed promise with volumes similar to 2018; however, there were only four weeks in total in which deliveries reached the 1 million ton mark, even with the season extending to November 5.
Plantings were delayed due to weather in the growing regions with the northern areas suffering more than the southern. Heavy storms in May caused some damage to early tomatoes, particularly in the Huron area. Some of these fields were farmed out and managed to salvage some tons, while other farmers could not see any hope and turned them into their insurance carriers for loss payments.
Early yields in the south trailed 2018 by as much as 10%. Mid-season yields saw a slight increase, but not to the levels experienced in 2018. Despite having a milder summer, yields in the north never did reach grower and processor expectations. Late season storms passed through the Woodland area around Septem- ber 28 and served as a reminder that anything can happen while the crop is out in the field waiting to be harvested.
Final harvested acres are being forecasted at 231,000 with a potential yield of 48.4 tons per acre, 3.7 tons per acre less than 2018. Some in the industry are speculating that there were fewer harvested acres and that the tons per acre number should be higher.
May weather conditions and late blight in the south caused the organic tons to finish 111,946 tons below 2018, for a total of 404,061 tons.
While early weather conditions took a toll on some crops, they did not come without their benefits. The water situation in California has improved. Reservoirs in Northern and Central California remain at healthy levels and better than historical averages.
Although the state received a lot
of moisture, only 75% of allotment was given to the State Water Project and Central Valley Project growers. The shortage of surface water will become an even greater issue as the deadline for submission of SGMA (Sustainable Groundwater Management Act) plans grows closer to the January deadline.
During the period from October 1, 2018, to November 11, 2019, over 28.5 million acre-feet of water have flowed out to the ocean. To put this in perspective, the annual water requirement for the California tomato crop is approximately 700,000-acre feet. Enough water has flowed out to the ocean that could have satisfied the irrigation requirements of California processing tomatoes for forty years. 2019 will go down in the books as a good tomato year, but disappointing for California growers who have seen a steady increase in yields over the past years.
In addition to the ongoing wage, labor, and water issues, 2020 will bring new and continuing challenges to California tomato growers. The industry is deeply concerned about a law that requires seed to be inspect- ed for viroids prior to leaving China, particularly since shipments containing early season varieties have not yet arrived in California or even been shipped from China. California tomato growers and processors remain resilient to keep up with the ever-challenging California business atmosphere.