Like Rominger, Cameron, a 20-year tomato veteran, had hoped for a higher contract price.

“I would prefer a price in the $70 per ton range; a seven as the front number instead of a six,” Cameron said. “Our expenses continue to rise with fuel, fertilizers, and labor plus we always have equipment needs.”

Cameron hoped higher prices for competing crops would bring higher tomato prices.

“There is a surplus of tomato products so the carryover weighed on the market,” Cameron said. “$68 was a compromise.”

Cameron’s yields have been excellent; even record setting in some fields.

“We are probably averaging in the low 60 tons per acre range,” Cameron said. “Three or four fields yielded more than 70 tons per acre. That’s a record yield for us.”

Mike Montna, California Tomato Growers Association president and chief executive officer, said the statewide California processing tomato crop was 24 percent harvested as of mid August. The 2009 crop was 39 percent complete for the same time period.

Montna expects the processing tomato harvest will wrap up in mid to late October. This year’s crop should total about 12.2 million tons; close to last year’s figure. Average statewide yields could average 47 tons per acre.

“The (mid August) reports from the field indicated good tomato quality,” Montna said.

California growers produce about 95 percent of the U.S. processing tomato crop. The production belt stretches roughly from Kings County in the south to Colusa in the north including the Interstate 5 corridor.

Fresno County is the largest processing tomato-producing county in California with about 4 million tons harvested last year.

Statewide contract acreage this year is 258,000 acres, down from 271,000 acres last year. The grower value of the industry is about $866 million.

Montna said, “I think $68 per ton is a fair and reasonable price for 2011 given the current market conditions and growers’ cost increases.”

Last year’s contract price was $65 per ton.

cblake@farmpress.com