It was a decent year overall for processing tomatoes. “Preliminary yield is 41.2 tons per acre, which is the second highest ever,” says Ross Siragusa, President of California Tomato Growers Association (CTGA). “Color and peel qualities were excellent, although some of the late fruit packed for export markets was below the normal standard.”

“Yields were excellent,” says Los Banos area grower Pat Gallichio. “The biggest problem was going over contract. We averaged over 51 tons an acre, and we don’t have anything on drip. The processors slashed the price on the excess, but at least they took them. Solids were down a bit, but that’s probably due to the high yields.”

Now, it’s the winter tug-of-war between processors and growers over the 2008 contract price.

“Growers are looking for a minimum of $70 per ton,” Siragusa says. “But, as expected, processors want to pay less.”

Last year the contract averaged $63 per ton, and that’s were processors started negotiations for the 2008 crop.

Growers may have a little more bargaining power in 2008 due to water uncertainties in many areas and the outlook for increased profitability in crops such as wheat and corn.

“Acreage will be reduced by 10 percent to 20 percent due to less water and high-priced alternative crops,” Siragusa says.

“I don’t think there’s any reason we shouldn’t get $70 a ton,” Gallichio says. “I just hope we don’t have to wait until June to hear what it is. Hay is pretty attractive right now and so are safflower and corn. Growers have options.”

Mild weather has favored fall ground preparation, and it’s no secret some growers have busted out tomato beds in preparation for other crops that seem to offer a fewer headaches and a bit more assurance.