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Red hot temperatures squash tomatoes as lack of water evaporates production

August 21, 2022
Food & Drink

As Europe suffers the worst drought in over 500 years, North America suffers the worst dry period in over a millennia, with NASA images showing water reservoirs like Lake Mead at its lowest levels since its construction in the 1930s. Lack of water is constraining tomato production in a region that produces a quarter of the world’s output.

The tomato crop in California is expected to be around 10.6 million metric tons, well under the peak reached in 2015 of 13.06 million metric tons, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). Since the start of the year, California has cut its tomato estimates by 4.1%.

Tomato production in 2022 will resemble the production of 2020.

“Despite low supply and a substantial increase in price, contracted production has dropped significantly compared to the beginning of 2022. Water availability is the main issue facing processing tomato producers, challenged by another year of lower-than-average rainfall and little to no water allocations,” explains the USDA.

Mexico standing strong
Northern Mexico projected tomato output is predicted to reach 3.7 million metric tons this year (compared to 3.03 million metric tons in 2021) “despite abnormally dry conditions in some areas” with “no major production shortfalls due to weather present at this time,” according to USDA.

“Mexican growers continue to transition from open fields toward more controlled production under protected cultivation methods,” explains the body.

The region is maintaining high production despite severe water shortages that are keeping major cities like Monterrey without access to water during large parts of the day. The government is also stepping to move beer production to Mexico’s southern regions in an effort to save water resources.

Italy’s tomato season decimated
ANICAV, an association representing over 100 Italian tomato processing companies, warns that the season has started with cost increases, drought and risk of speculation. “Businesses are in great difficulty,” it highlights.

The organization says that the season starts with an 8.5% reduction of hectares harvested.

“The increases, which have reached unprecedented levels not only in terms of quantity but above all for the generality of the cost elements involved, have caused production costs to rise enormously,” says Marco Serafini, president of ANICAV.

“The processing season is part of many unknowns such as drought, climatic conditions, difficulties in finding labor – and in a complex macroeconomic framework. We are even more concerned about the speculative attitude of a part of the agricultural world, already revealed in this start of the campaign, which seriously threatens to question the survival of the supply chain, especially in the central southern basin.” underscores Giovanni De Angelis, general manager of ANICAV.

Tomato producer Coldiretti has conducted a study that estimated the tomato harvest cut to 11% this year, around 5.4 billion kg, as the climatic conditions have accelerated the fruit’s maturation processes and put the production at risk.

“Italian farms are fighting on all fronts against increases which range from 170% for fertilizers to 129% for diesel, glass costs more than 30% more than last year, while there is a 15% increase for tetra pack, 35% for labels, 45% for cardboard, 60% for tinplate cans, up to 70% for plastic,” explains the business.

Tomato production may decline by 2050
An article published in Nature argues that due to the tomato production being concentrated in a small number of regions highly-affected by climate change the tomato production will decrease by 6% in 2050 compared to the baseline period of 1980-2009.

“The future viability of processing tomato production is different for each region. China will be one of the regions that is projected to be able to maintain a viable production of processing tomatoes,” according to the article.

California and Italy are signaled as the two regions that will be negatively impacted by the projected environmental changes.

By Marc Cervera


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