It’s been a rough-and-tumble year for processing tomato growers. But what else is new?

With harvest getting under way, Morning Star finally settled with the California Tomato Growers Association (CTGA) on a contract price of $63 in early July, according to Ross Siragusa, president. “That move finally put to bed a 13-month process for establishing the 2007 tomato price,” he says.

Siragusa attributes the late contract finalization primarily to the fact that some growers plunged ahead and planted without a contract in 2007. Additionally, processors were taking a “watch-and-see” approach after a heavier than anticipated crop in 2006, and they were reluctant to bite on the original $65 contract price originally proposed by CTGA.

In the field, some areas have been rather hard hit by disease and pests, although they appear to be rather isolated for the most part.

“We are having trouble with spotted wilt virus in tomatoes and peppers this year,” says Brenna Aegerter, San Joaquin County vegetable crops UCCE farm advisor. “It’s worse than any year in the past. Thrips pressure seems to be high around here and the virus has been a problem in the Linden, Waterloo, and Farmington areas on the east side of San Joaquin County. Overall, though, the majority of the acreage in San Joaquin County isn’t affected.”

Other disease pressure has also been spotty, although above normal where growers are reporting it.

“Besides thrips and tomato spotted wilt virus, we’re seeing an above normal incidence of Phytopthora capsici, causing a crown rot in tomatoes in some areas,” Aegerter says. “But again, this isn’t a widespread problem. Most of the acreage is not affected.”

Water has been a bit of an issue in the northern growing areas, but nothing yet critical. “Our winter wasn’t quite as dry as it was down south, but we’re still seeing the effects of below average rainfall,” Aegerter says. “It’s mainly salinity problems — the rains weren’t sufficient to push the salts down below the tomato rooting zone.”

In Contra Costa County, reports are that tomatoes look good and harvest is ahead of schedule.