You Say Tomato, We Say Florida’s Finest
by ERIKA ALDRICH
Sponsored by Farm Credit of Central Florida
Florida is well-known for providing fruits and vegetables during the winter months when the rest of the country is locked in cold weather, and tomatoes are no exception. Florida is the leading state in the country in fresh market tomatoes, providing fresh red tomatoes to all corners of the country, Canada, and beyond when other states cannot. Tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene, and they are rated as the third-most-favorite vegetable in the U.S. Explore Florida tomato production by the numbers and see this crop’s impact on Florida’s economy.
The History of Tomatoes in Florida
Tomatoes are native to the Americas, and the plant was brought back to Europe by the conquistadors exploring the New World where its name given by the Aztecs—xitomatl—was changed to “tomate” by the Spanish. Technically, tomatoes are a “fruit on the vine,” but they are eaten and used in cooking like a vegetable. According to The Florida Tomato Committee, the Federal Marketing Order that researches and develops projects and marketing promotions that focus on promoting the Florida tomato, the U.S. Supreme Court even ruled that tomatoes were a vegetable for tariff purposes in 1893!
It is believed that tomato production started in Florida in the 1870s. Today, The Florida Tomato Committee maintains that even though many other states produce tomatoes, The Sunshine State grows about half of all fresh tomatoes produced in the country because Florida produces just about all fresh-market, field-grown tomatoes grown in the country from October and into June.
Florida Tomato Production by the Numbers
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) lists Florida fresh market tomatoes as having a production value of $262 million in 2017, which was 34 percent of the U.S. value of tomatoes. The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) maintains that Florida fresh market tomato growers raised 8,400,000 CWT of fresh market tomatoes on 29,000 acres in that same year.
In 2019, the USDA’s NASS asserts Florida’s tomato production was worth $426 million, which was 60 percent of the total U.S. value for fresh market tomatoes. In 2020, Florida grew 6,720,000 CWT of fresh market tomatoes on 25,000 acres for a production value of $463 million, per USDA NASS data.
According to The Florida Tomato Committee, tomatoes make up nearly one-third of the total value of all fresh vegetables produced in Florida every year.
Tomatoes Grown in Florida
Central Florida and Southern Florida make up the “Florida Tomato District.” West Central Florida counties like Pinellas, Hillsborough, Polk, Manatee, and Hardee have the longest growing season for fresh market tomatoes; they harvest mid-October through June with two peaks in the season. The shortest growing season is in Miami-Dade County, lasting from late November through April.
Other crops that thrive in Florida this time of year include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce and spinach.