Kim Chipman, WASHINGTON POST
Tomatoes are getting squeezed.
California leads the world in production of processing tomatoes – the variety that gets canned and used in commercial kitchens to make some of the most popular foods. The problem is the worst drought in 1,200 years is forcing farmers to grapple with a water crisis that’s undermining the crop, threatening to further push up prices from salsa to spaghetti sauce.
“We desperately need rain,” Mike Montna, head of the California Tomato Growers Association, said in an interview. “We are getting to a point where we don’t have inventory left to keep fulfilling the market demand.”
Lack of water is shrinking production in a region responsible for a quarter of the world’s output, which is having an impact on prices of tomato-based products. Gains in tomato sauce and ketchup are outpacing the rise in U.S. food inflation, which is at its highest in 43 years, with drought and higher agricultural inputs to blame. With California climate-change forecasts calling for hotter and drier conditions, the outlook for farmers is uncertain.
“It’s real tough to grow a tomato crop right now,” Montna said. “On one side you have the drought impacting costs because you don’t have enough water to grow all your acres, and then you have the farm inflation side of it with fuel and fertilizer costs shooting up.”