- The Washington Times - Monday, August 15, 2022

California’s historic drought is stunting the production of tomatoes used in restaurant kitchens around the world.

A quarter of the world’s tomatoes come from the Golden State, but the worst drought in 1,200 years is hurting its ability to cultivate more of the crop, according to Bloomberg News. 

The outlet reported that the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) anticipates that this year’s harvest will fall below its estimate of 11.7 million tons.

The USDA’s May report on tomato production said that a lack of water is the main issue facing producers, which was compounded by unusual weather patterns such as a hot stretch in March and an unusual freeze in April.

“We desperately need rain,” Mike Montna, head of the California Tomato Growers Association, told the news outlet. “We are getting to a point where we don’t have inventory left to keep fulfilling the market demand.”

He said that the drought is pinching revenue because the land can’t be used to grow more tomatoes, while inflation is forcing farmers to spend more on overhead costs.   

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Inflation is so weighty that the negotiated rate of $105 for a ton of tomatoes — an all-time high — is only enough to prevent farmers from losing money. 

Prices for tomato sauce and ketchup are up 17% and 23%, respectively, year-over-year in July. Tomato paste prices for clients of Ingomar Packing Co., one of the world’s biggest tomato processors, are up as much as 80% from a year ago. 

“There are simply not enough acres of processing tomatoes being planted this year to ensure that everybody gets their full supply,” R. Greg Pruett, sales and energy manager for Ingomar, told Bloomberg. “The water is either too expensive or just not available at any cost.”

• Matt Delaney can be reached at mdelaney@washingtontimes.com.

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