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Reinert, W. 1993. Processing tomatoes: Old crop in a new area. p. 660-662. In: J. Janick and J.E. Simon (eds.), New crops. Wiley, New York.

Processing Tomatoes: Old Crop in a New Area

William Reinert*

  3. Table 1
  4. Table 2

Tomato production in the United States did not grow from 1986 to 1988 (Table 1). In September 1988, an early rain in California devastated the late crop and processing tomato growers lost well over 1 million tonnes of tomatoes to mold. This event coupled with severe world production problems and an increased demand for tomato based products in Campbell's created a severe shortage. Although the Campbell Soup Co. could potentially exhaust inventories prior to the next season, the decision was made to grow tomatoes in California's Imperial Valley for the first time, to supply paste 30 days earlier than normal. The following account will detail the steps necessary to produce this crop.


The Campbell Agriculture Department went through a six step process to be prepared to produce tomatoes in the Spring of 1989 in the Imperial Valley. The six critical inputs for new area development included: (1) extension service; (2) grower association; (3) grower base; (4) inspection system; (5) transportation; (6) communication.

The extension system inputs in California are excellent. A Farm Advisor system exists throughout most counties and a station at the Imperial Valley was established over 20 years ago. A significant amount of weather history was available from the extension service which would prove important to identify when to plant so that a harvesting schedule could be developed. The Extension Service also had significant data on the location of various soil types in the Imperial County which aided in locating the sites for field production. We were also able to obtain additional information on the Valley's current crops, their relative value, and the crop rotation schedule. Tomatoes cannot follow certain crops because of potential herbicide carryover problems.

The California Process Tomato Growers Association (CTGA) had been established back in 1948. In 1988, there were approximately 570 California tomato growers, almost half of them CTGA members. There were eight CTGA members located in Imperial Valley. These eight growers established a set of contacts to begin working with which then allowed the Agriculture Department to begin developing a grower base. As the growers were being identified, a contract needed to be created which specifically detailed (1) total tonnage; (2) price per ton; (3) incentives; (4) timing (delivery schedule); (5) deductions and payment schedule. Most contracts are developed on a tonnage basis and the grower is responsible to calculate area requirements. In the Imperial Valley, the Campbell contract was on an area basis because of our lack of sufficient historical yield information. Incentives would include tomatoes with higher soluble solids and early production. A tomato cultivar program was developed based on the weather data and the type of tomato paste in shortest supply. The cultivars selected had to be extremely firm because of the long distance the tomatoes would have to be trucked. The delivery schedule also needed to be created. Normal production from Fresno usually started the first of July; therefore, production had to commence prior to July. The goal was to start harvesting in the Imperial Valley the first of June. The last consideration was to make sure that the farmers had all the specific farm equipment necessary for growing the processing tomatoes. Bed shapers, seeders, cultivators were some specific implements, but probably the most important piece was the custom tomato harvester. Very few harvesters were available in the Imperial Valley, but the California processing tomato industry was large enough to have developed a custom harvest industry. This custom harvesting industry trucked the machines to the Imperial Valley and was able to provide this critical service to the Imperial growers.

The state of California had created a marketing order to develop the Tomato Processing Advisory Board which set up an inspection system based on color, soluble solids, mold damage, and insect damage. After the tomatoes are harvested and loaded directly into open gondolas, the trucks are directed to the nearest state certified station. Each tomato load is sampled a minimum of four times with a plunger that is capable of taking 45 kg each cycle. The tomatoes are dumped into a bucket and brought to the station to have all the specific measurements performed. If the tomatoes did not meet state grade, loads were either sorted or dumped.

An elaborate transportation system was created to have the tomatoes hauled from the Imperial Valley to Campbell's nearest paste production plant in Stockton, 1,086 km (675 miles) away. To eliminate the need for two drivers per load, a double hub system was created. In this manner, one driver could complete one complete cycle and not exceed his allowable driving time. The double hub system created an extra station between Imperial and Stockton to act as a transfer point. This extra station had responsibility to weigh trucks and add tomatoes to maximize loads. The harvesting of tomatoes and transportation to the paste plants was done completely at night in order to avoid the deleterious effect of the Imperial Valley's high day temperatures on fruit quality.

The last input for the successful introduction of tomatoes into this new region is a real time computer-based information system. It was critical for maximum plant efficiency to process a specific number of loads per day; thus, it was necessary to know how many loads were to be harvested, when the loads were on the road and past the inspection station, and finally at the middle exchange station. An elaborate tagging system was installed to follow loads from Imperial to Stockton so a dispatcher could call up any terminal in the system and determine the number of loads at any particular step in the system.


Table 2 illustrates the plan versus the actual results accomplished by the Agriculture Department in Imperial Valley. In all measurable terms, the results equaled, if not exceeded the plan, except for freight costs. The increased yields and soluble solids were the two key items that allowed an extra 900 tonnes of paste to be manufactured at the Stockton plant. The overall savings for Campbell was estimated to be in excess of five million dollars. The most important point was that the June produced paste was shipped immediately to the various Campbell manufacturing plants in the United States to prevent a gap in the supply of red-based soups and tomato juice to the supermarket distribution system.

California growers responded quickly to the tomato paste shortage after 1988 (Table 1). By the end of the 1990 season, a 42% increase in harvested tonnage was accomplished by means of an additional 34,000 ha of tomatoes.

*I thank Rick Orzalli from the Sacramento Agriculture Department for his tireless efforts in putting the entire Imperial Valley plan together.
Table 1. United States processing tomato production.
Location 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991
Production (tonnes)
United States 6,085 6,897 6,722 8,604 9,388 9,864
California 5,879 6,080 5,940 7,788 8,442 8,975
New Jersey 47 51 38 29 52 43
Ohio 349 335 326 355 395 356
Other States 432 431 418 432 499 491
Area harvested (ha)
United States 102,009 104,048 111,260 129,848 143,466 144,065
California 85,149 86,606 91,503 111,900 125,457 126,266
New Jersey 1,214 1,174 1,336 1,214 1,336 1,052
Ohio 5,590 6,475 7,163 7,082 6,920 7,163
Other States 9,656 9,794 11,295 10,462 9,753 9,583
Average yield (t/ha)
United States 65.7 66.4 60.5 66.3 65.4 68.4
California 69.1 70.2 65.0 69.7 67.2 71.0
New Jersey 39.0 43.5 28.5 23.5 38.8 40.8
Ohio 58.3 51.6 45.5 50.2 56.9 49.8
Other States 43.0 43.9 37.2 44.8 51.1 43.9

Table 2. Tomato operations Imperial Valley--1989.

Variable Planned Actual
Start-up June 5 June 6
Hectarage 745 745
Yield (t/ha) 75.3 80.5
Tonnes processed 56,087 59,991
Soluble solids (%) 4.5 4.97
Total tonnes 46% equiv. tomato paste 5,554 6,511
kg paste/tonne 99 109
No. of growers 10 10
Freight costs/tonne $62.82 $65.82

Last update May 16, 1997 aw