Tomato famine to feast

Eight day freeze wiped out two-thirds of the winter tomato crop

Jane Sobel Klonsky/ Getty Images

An eight-day deep freeze that hit Florida in January wiped out more than two-thirds of the winter tomato crop, causing prices to spike across the continent and some U.S. fast-food chains to eliminate or ration the juicy red vegetable (technically a fruit, according to botanists). In response, farmers rushed to fill the void and now, several months later, we’re in the midst of a massive tomato glut.

While Canada was insulated from the worst of the winter shortage thanks to local greenhouse production, shoppers on both sides of the border are expected to benefit from the oversupply thanks to falling tomato prices (an 11 kg box of fresh field tomatoes now costs about US$6.95, compared to US$31.95 in early March, according to Bloomberg).

That’s good for consumers, but bad for U.S. tomato farmers. In response, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said this month that it will buy up as many as US$6 million worth of tomatoes for use in federal nutrition assistance programs. “The purchase announced today will provide Florida fresh tomato farmers with some relief, stimulate the economy, and provide high quality, nutritious food to people in need,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said of a program designed to solve several pressing problems with one fruit. Or vegetable.

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