Manatee County growers sell tomatoes for cheap during COVID-19 pandemic

PALMETTO, Fla. — Manatee County growers are selling a 25-pound box of tomatoes for as little as $4. A grower must sell boxes for $10 just to break even, they can go for as much as $40 depending on the market.

With cruises halted and many restaurants forced to close, there just aren’t as many buyers at Pacific Tomatoes and Taylor & Fulton, so they’re passing the savings on to you.

“We got workers we gotta pay. We got bills still you know the rent and the light bill and everything still, so we gotta do what we gotta do,” Taylor & Fulton Packing House Plant Manager Victor Uribe told 10News.

Uribe says Walmart and Publix are some of the main buyers, but they’re selling some of the less-desirable red tomatoes to those who stop by the plant.

A spokesperson for the Florida Tomato Exchange tells us back in January, a 25-pound box would have gone for $36.

Executive Vice President Michael Schadler says back on March 6th, before the coronavirus crisis, a box would have cost $18.

He says Florida is the biggest fresh market tomato producer, selling not just to the food service industry, but also to schools, restaurants and cruise ships as well. Despite the tomato glut, there are still tomatoes coming into the U.S. from Mexico which is the biggest competition for Florida growers. Schadler says workers in Mexico are paid about a tenth of what workers in the U.S. make.

April and May are the biggest harvest months for tomatoes, so there’s hope the growers will be able to get back on track with their sales.