Tomato prices in Mzansi are at an all-time high. Due to lower volumes reaching fresh produce markets and retail shelves, the price tag on tomatoes are now 99% higher than it was a year ago, and experts reckon consumers will fork out a premium for at least two more months.
Producers in the country are fetching more for their tomatoes at fresh produce markets but, at the same time, delivering harvests in much lower volumes. The latest tomato price stands at R8.91/kg. At the same time last year, farmers earned about R4.48/kg.
Dr Johnny van der Merwe, managing director of the agricultural information group Agrimark Trends (AMT), weighed in on the price hike in his weekly AMT Fresh Produce Overview. According to him, this price is driven by availability and volumes that are currently 45% lower than last year this time.
“The class one tomato price increased to R9.46 last week. Low volumes are likely to keep these prices supported for now [and are] mostly driven by weather conditions. We have late frost conditions in certain production areas,” Van der Merwe explains.
Farmers, more so in the northern production areas, have reported irreparable damage to their tomato plants as a result of temperature drops below freezing point. Tomato plants exposed to cooler, wet climates do not perform very well, as the plants’ capacity to produce is negatively impacted.
‘Not an easy market at the moment’
One tomato farmer in the Western Cape, Byron Booysen, tells Food For Mzansi that he decided not to do tomato production this season. His decision is brought on by the high risks of winter planting. He will only start planting again in August this year and says he is not the only farmer to have dodged crop damage.
“Fewer producers are willing to go through the winter season. In the Western Cape, it’s fairly cool climatic conditions. [With] wetter and cooler climates, there’s a lot of diseases that come into effect. This is negatively impacting production levels of farmers at the moment.”
Booysen explains that the methods used to combat pests, such as Tuta absoluta or tomato leaf miner, is quite difficult. On top of that, the pest spreads quickly, putting tomato plants under severe pressure.
“Fewer farmers are willing to take the chance of planting, especially Western Cape farmers, during winter. It’s not an easy market at the moment in terms of production. The [consumer] demand for tomatoes, however, remains high.”
Farmers vs. consumers
Meanwhile, the rise in tomato prices means that consumers will have to pay more than what they are used to. In one supermarket, the price of class one tomatoes stood at R19.99/kg. At the same time last year, consumers paid about R15/kg.
On the flipside, the steep increase bodes well for farmers who are collecting more for their produce, AMT’s Van der Merwe explains.
“Farmers are getting approximately 100% more for their tomatoes. But they are delivering [lower] volumes. It also depends on the type of damage they had and what the impact is on their profitability. Volumes and prices determine income and profitability, and this will be different for different producers.”
Van der Merwe points out that a few of the frost-affected farmers have opted to replant. This could ensure higher tomato volumes towards spring, and subsequently bring the price back down.
“We might see below-average prices again when more volumes enter into the market. However, tomato prices remain very volatile in terms of the volumes delivered to the markets.”
What’s happening with potato prices?
Van der Merwe remarks that the price of potatoes, as another household staple, is also noteworthy. Potato prices are down 27%.
“When looking at the latest movements in the vegetable industry, the national average potato price decreased again to R46.07 per 10kg, which is 20% lower than last year the same time,” Van der Merwe says.
Last year, farmers fetched about R63 per 10kg bag and it was mostly due to volumes being under pressure as a result of frost and hail damage.
This time around, volumes delivered to the market over the past week are 10% higher. “The average class one price traded at R49.16 while the class one, large to medium Mondial price, decreased to R50 per 10kg bag on the nile.ag platform last week.”
Van der Merwe says he expects prices to stay on this level and demand to improve as month-end approaches.
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