Triple digit temperatures in the San Joaquin Valley last week apparently didn’t do too much harm to processing tomatoes.

“Some concerns were expressed, since the hot weather highlighted some weak spots in fields,” says Ross Siragusa, CEO of California Tomato Growers Association. “Fortunately the hot spell was limited to only a few days when the overnight lows were in the 70’s. Most growers believe we escaped any major damage.”

Early-harvested tomatoes in Fresno County are yielding better than expected, and growers are already looking for a pretty good year due to reduced insect and disease problems.

Jean Errotabere of Errotabere Ranches at Riverdale, Calif., was estimating about 48 tons per acre in one of his earliest fields. It came in at 54 tons.

“I was surprised, but obviously pleased,” he says. “We were first at the cannery and the other loads that followed that early field were also good.”

Many growers are reporting similar early results, although concerns are growing over losses to new virus diseases in the valley. One grower at a variety field day was shocked to see one of his standby varieties devastated by virus; in his own fields, the plants had no symptoms and yielded well.

“If the heat continues, growers will have to keep water on the crop longer than standard practices,” Siragusa says. “This obviously assumes that water will be available.”

There were two water sales of more than $500 per acre foot shortly after the state shut down the Delta pumps, and growers became very nervous very quickly when those prices got around the coffee shops and cell phone networks.

“The water supply south of the Delta — especially for growers with significant permanent plantings — is a major concern,” Siragusa says. “Most growers should be able to get through harvest this year, provided they have adequate well water. Due to the relatively the high value of processing tomatoes — approximately $2,400 per acre — that won’t be the first crop to be dropped due to high water costs. Growers already have a lot invested, so it would be very difficult to walk away.”

Could the summer of ’07 be the catalyst for a shift in tomato acreage? Only time will tell.

“A bigger concern for most growers is 2008,” Siragusa says. “It will be very difficult for them to make plans to grow tomatoes south of the Delta without a provision to cover water risk.”

Fortunately, growers began this harvest with the clear understanding of the price they will receive — $63 per ton. Morning Star was the last processor holdout, and it agreed in June to the price everyone else had settled upon earlier.