The Tomato Knows

Folks who’ve been here for a while know I’ve used the “tag line” of “GIStemp, Dumber Than a Tomato”. Newbies can click on the “GIStemp” tab up top for an example.

Well, we had a cold spell a few weeks back. It froze all the way down to Mexico. Now the impact on tomatoes is being felt all over North America. This is just another example of the Tomato being a more truthful indicator of “climate change” than all the manipulated numbers in the world.

Now this event is NOT spectacular in any way. It happened a few decades back too. I have foggy memories of “ask for a tomato” on your Burger King and “no tomato salad bars”. It’s not real common, but it does happen.

The whole point of it is just that it IS mundane. Nothing has warmed up in decades. To the extent we had a few warm years (heck, maybe even a warm decade or two during the hot phase of the PDO) it’s all gone. We are right back at “plain old normal”. BUT having a cold cycle extreme that has frozen the tomatoes in Mexico.

Some sample stories:

Want A Tomato At Wendy’s, You Have To Ask.
Nick Needham Created: 2/16/2011 4:55:23 PM Updated: 2/16/2011 5:55:44 PM

National– Severe weather across Florida and Mexico has led to a shortage of tomatoes at area Wendy’s restaurants.

Kitty Munger, a spokesperson for Wendy’s told WFMY News 2, “Tomato crops were damaged by several freezes across the south back in December.”

On Feb. 10, Wendy’s nationwide started offering tomatoes on hamburgers and chicken sandwiches by request only.

So at Wendy’s it’s “By Request” only. How about “Sweet Tomatoes” without the tomato?

No Tomatoes at Sweet Tomatoes Restaurants? Mexico Freeze Causes U.S. Veggie Shortage
By: Erin Skarda

Veggie lovers, take note: You may be eating much less colorful (and even more expensive) salads in coming months.

Below-normal temperatures in Mexico, Florida and Texas earlier this year caused a deep freeze that’s negatively affecting the U.S. supply of many high-demand vegetables, such as delicious tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers. The veggie drought, which is expected to last until early April, is putting a major strain on the market, causing prices to rise and restaurants and grocers to scramble for other sources of these popular foods.

For instance, a Sweet Tomatoes restaurant in Waukegan, Ill., posted a sign Saturday saying, “Mother Nature Strikes Again,” and listed the veggies that are currently not being offered at the salad bar. Some of the chain’s locations are adding choices such as edamame, tofu and feta cheese to replenish items they’re currently missing.

Because of the inflated prices (the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange announced that prices for a 25-pound box of tomatoes has doubled in the past week),

OK, got that? “Below normal”. And that, my friends, is how a tomato is smarter than GIStemp. It KNOWS when things are colder than normal. As does, unfortunately, my wallet. I just got back from “Lucky’s Supermarket”. They are a “middle low end” grocery chain here. Not as high end as a Lunardi’s or the absolutely wonderful Italian grocery Cosentino’s (that has THE best vegetables bar none in the area), but not a Walmart either. About the same as the USA Chain “Safeway”.

They had a ‘special’ going on tomatoes, so I had to look. 97 Cents a pound, just under $1 a pound. For slightly green tinged OK tomatoes. Not TOO bad, I guess. But by the look of them they were of the slightly rubbery and tasteless variety. You could get tomatoes that looked somewhat better for $1.99 / pound. Oh heck, I’m just going to round up the odd penny or two. For $2 / pound you could get Roma “paste” tomatoes. At $3.69 they had some “on the vine” tomatoes (that also looked a bit green tinged and none too large) and then, the top of the heap, for $4 / pound you could get “Hothouse” tomatoes. Each one large and looking pretty good. I’d have given them another few days to ripen more, but they were clearly picked a bit on the green side to hold up better in shipping. OK, it’s the dead of winter. I ought not to complain about the cost of a real red tomato. But….

When tomatoes are running the same per pound as pork chops and about double to triple the price of whole chickens, something is not very warm in Mexico (or Texas or Florida or California for that matter, we do grow them here…).

A $4 / pound tomato is just NOT a result of warming, global or otherwise. Period. No way Jose. It is the result of large heating bills for a ‘hothouse’, just like a $3.69 tomato is the result of frost in Mexico.

The tomatoes are speaking, clearly, and they are saying “Baby it’s COLD outside!”

FEBRUARY 15, 2011

Freeze Hits Vegetables
Suppliers Scramble Following Cold in Mexico, Florida, Texas

A major freeze in Mexico earlier this month has resulted in a shortage across the U.S. of tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers and other produce that could last until April and lead to higher prices at the grocery store.

Supermarkets, distributors and restaurant chains are scrambling to find other sources for the items and to offer replacements. But the problem has been compounded by the fact that inclement weather has also hit other growing regions, like Florida and Texas, that would normally be able to make up for a supply interruption from Mexico.

“It’s extremely unusual for more than one production area to experience abnormal weather in the same year. We are continuing to harvest tomatoes in Florida, but our current volume is maybe half of what it would normally be,”
said Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, adding that a 25-pound box of tomatoes went from costing less than $15 to more than $30 in the past week.

Notice that the wholesale price has gone to over $1/pound for generic tomatoes. I can expect those $1 Lucky’s tomatoes to rise in price in coming weeks.

Supervalu Inc., the U.S.’s fourth-largest food retailer by sales behind leader Wal-Mart Stores Inc., is girding for lower availability of some key vegetables because of the deep freeze, Mexico’s worst in more than 50 years. Dan Bates, director of merchandising for the Eden Prairie, Minn., company’s produce division, said that in the last 10 days he has seen the price of peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash and eggplant rise and that the grocer may pass along some of those costs to shoppers.

“It’s been kind of the perfect storm of problems this year,” Mr. Bates said. “It’s the first time I remember every area having the same problem at the same time.”

So, a 60 year cycle flops and golly, it’s like it was the last time were were in about this part of the cycle… Just like the late 1990s were almost exactly the same as the 1930s (only a bit cooler).

Can you say “Cyclical Weather is not Climate”? There, I knew you could…

Some Notes on Grains


While they do find a general reduction in total grain production compared to prior years, it is not an outrageous amount. Even with a small amount of inelastic demand, prices ought not to be as high, IMHO, as they are. Either there is a lot of ‘hidden buying’ going on, or there is some speculative excess in here. Again, just in my opinion.

International grain and oilseed prices advanced strongly in December and again in January, with some values at their highest for two years. However, export prices remained below the peaks recorded early in 2008. While there has been little fundamental change in the overall supply and demand balance in the past two months, markets were driven higher by concerns about supplies of quality milling wheat and the tightening outlook for maize and soyabeans. The influence of other commodities, including crude oil, also featured regularly on the major exchanges. For wheat, reports that the extremely wet conditions in eastern Australia would render at least one-third of the country’s large wheat crop unfit for flour milling were especially bullish. More recently, better prospects for US exports and a winter wheat acreage report showing a smaller than expected rise in Hard Red Winter wheat plantings further triggered buying.

So as I read that, it’s looking like a bit of reduction of supply, but mostly a whole lot of worry. But as we will see below, some of that worry is showing up as China buying.

China was among several recent customers for Australian feed grade wheat. For maize, there were worries about a reduced official US carryover forecast as well as about whether plantings for the next crop would be sufficient to prevent stocks falling further in 2011/12. The impact of dryness, attributed to the La Niña event, on Argentina’s upcoming harvest added to the market’s nervousness. Similarly, despite quite ample current stocks, US soyabean prices moved higher, initially because of continued heavy demand from China but more recently due to a lower official US supply estimate and strength in crude oil. Rice export prices also increased, but while Thai values in late-December climbed to a ten-month peak, they subsequently fell back as the main crop harvest advanced.

IMHO, a big part of this is just China buying as it has some dollars to dump and some empty silos at home. When the China buy ends, and the next crop is ‘pending’, watch out for a drop in prices.

They also have some interesting numbers in charts. They break it out by type of grain, but include this ‘total grains’ chart:

Year            06/07 07/08 08/09 09/10 10/11 (two forecasts)
Production       1588  1697  1802  1793  1725 1726
Trade             222   239   249   240   241  242
Consumption      1629  1684  1724  1762  1786 1787
Carryover stocks  282   295   373   404   340  342
year/year change  -40   +13   +78   +31   -62
Major exporters** 116   112   152   162   105  104

Notice that “carryover” estimate year/year change. DOWN at -62 (million tons) After 3 years of adding to carryover, we’re dropping. But notice too that we’re not down at 282 like in 06/07, we’re still up at 300+ range. This is not a time to panic, it’s just market dislocations, IMHO. The “biggest deal” is most likely that drop in ‘major exporters’ from 162 to the 105 range right when China is making new buys (along with many in the Middle East to placate hungry protesters…) While the total grain production / consumption is not so far out of whack, the percentage available in the ‘export’ market is down from the last two ‘bumper years’ to a bit below what it was before.

So by my read, yeah, we’ve got some minor supply impacts. Probably due to cold and drought. But at the same time we’ve got a reduction in traded grains just as China is buying more. That the EU and USA are burning grain instead of drilling holes in the ground probably doesn’t help. But what’s a little global unrest, death, destruction, collapse of countries, and the threat of W.W.III when you can give a crop subsidy to Iowa?

Bottom Line

The “bottom line” is pretty simple. In a warming world, crops that need extra heat to grow would be growing better. Cotton is heat loving. I can just barely get it to set bolls IFF I start it very early and have a warm year. I didn’t even try this past year as it was just too cool. In a warming world, the price of cotton would be falling as cotton would flourish. Instead we have cotton running higher in a parabolic blow off to the moon:

BAL Cotton

BAL Cotton

Tomatoes would be going great guns. Tomatoes just LOVE heat, but will not set fruit below 50 F for most varieties, so cool nights kill yield. You don’t get a doubling of normal prices in a warming world.

You can watch other heat loving crops too. Peppers, for example. And Eggplant. In a cooler world, their prices will rise. In a warming world, they would drop.

So, want to know what’s going on with “30 year average of weather”? Don’t ask GIStemp (or HadCRUT or NOAA / NCDC or any of the other data manipulators). Just ask your grocer for some quite time in the vegetable section. The tomato knows…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in AGW and Weather News Events and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to The Tomato Knows

  1. SOYLENT GREEN says:

    Making a joke, that is later indicative of deeper reality.
    Don’t you just love it when that happens…unless, of course, you really like tomatoes.

  2. Time to import from the south: From Peru. BTW it has a FTA with the USA. You can get it here, at any super market, one kilo (2.2041 lbs) at US $1.38, and perhaps you can get it at US$0.35 per kilo (abt.0.16 per pound) for export.

  3. Dennis says:

    I note that here in Montana winter wheat acreage is up 270,000 acres over last decade’s average and there is plenty of water available. SnoPak is running well over 100% in all basins. Given the current situation and last year’s prices, I suspect there’ll be a comparable increase in the spring wheat acreage. Funny how economics works, isn’t it?

  4. John F. Hultquist says:

    In Washington State, last November an early cold snap damaged some of the wine grapes; full extent not yet known – but soon. This from a winegrower south of Yakima, near Zillah, WA. Meanwhile, unlike Dennis in Montana, our Cascades are a bit short of snow (irrigation water to be), although it snowed last night. It could be a cool spring and slow melt so there are a lot of “ifs” to wait on.

    I planted only 4 tomato plants last year – all hardy early-ripen types. The real problem was the cold nights and lack of fruit set. Finally, when we got nights warm enough I had to thin lots of tiny green fruit so some would grow and ripen. I harvested enough to pay for the plants and then some. The home grown vine ripened tomatoes are much better than anything in stores, although some of the local sellers have tasty and expensive produce.

    Quote: “At $3.69 they had some “on the vine” tomatoes . . .”

    I just hate paying $3.69 per pound for vines! The person that came up with that concept must be rich by now.

  5. papertiger says:

    Remember a while back when you pointed out that for climate purposes NOAA uses just four temp stations in California, all of them on the coast?

    I’m wondering are these four stations listed on Anthony’s surface station project? With pictures that I can link to?

    There’s a newspaper blogger up in Redding with a severe case of smug that needs deflating.

    I’m planning on serving him some humble pie, if I get those pictures (also even if I don’t get them. One way or another he will be served.)

  6. R. de Haan says:

    Spengler mentioned a possible failure of the China Wheat crops this season with severe effects for all people living from 2 US dollar a day or less.
    Chinese weather on Tahrir Square
    By Spengler

    “Not until June will we know the extent of the damage to China’s winter wheat crop, virtually all its production. Extremely low rainfall this winter parched more than 5 million hectares of 14 million hectares planted, and the next few weeks’ weather will determine if the world faces a real shortage of the staff of life.

    Hoarding on the part of North African countries, starting with Algeria, has already pushed up the wheat price in the Mediterranean to a 20% premium over the price shown on the Chicago futures market. The immediate risk is that pre-emptive purchases of wheat will price the grain out of the reach of poor Egyptians, not to mention Pakistanis and Bengalis.

    And if reserve-rich China, usually self-sufficient, goes into the world market to buy millions of tons of wheat, the price of wheat can rise to an arbitrarily high level.

    Other wheat crop info here

  7. DocMartyn says:

    and there was me thinking that, technically, maize is a grass and not a grain.
    Any idea of the total impact of corn to ethanol has had over the past decade. I suspect that people have been switching from things like soy to corn, and that this switch is also changing the total amount of primary inputs.

  8. E.M.Smith says:


    It was NASA / GISS that used “4 on the Beach”. The problem you have now is that GIStemp was changed to use the newer form of USHCN so (as of November 2010 IIRC) they have more California stations.

    Unfortunately, this is AFTER the USHCN was re-jiggered so as to “adjust” and “correct” it. So they have moved the pea to under the ‘adjustments” shell and out from under the “3 on a beach” shell…

    BUT, you can look at the GHCN directly (as it comes from NOAA / NCDC) and it still is “California Lite” on stations.

    Yes, they ought to be in Anthony’s system, but no, I’ve not looked. San Francisco, Santa Maria, San Diego, and L.A. IIRC, but you will want the station ID numbers from the posting.

    R. de Haan:

    That’s the problem. Oh, and nice links…

    One hopes that the places who have benefitted from the weather cycle shift can make up for the places that have not (as per Dennis’s comment)


    All the major grains are grasses (even wheat, oats, barley). IIRC, buckwheat is not a grass. Soy is, of course, a legume and not a grass. Don’t know if there is some arcane definitionof corn that would leave it out of the grain definition, but everyone calls it a grain (and I think it is one – just with very large ears and kernels…)

    From the link above:

    MAIZE: The production forecast is cut by 1m.
    to 809m., down 4m. from last year’s record.
    The US crop estimate is cut by 3m. tons, while
    Argentina’s forecast is also 3m. lower, reflecting
    overly dry conditions. These reductions are mostly
    offset by increases elsewhere, including for China.
    Consumption is forecast 2m. tons higher, at 842m.
    (815m.). Feed use is expected to rise by 3% but,
    because of high prices and competition from wheat,
    the forecast is reduced by 2m. tons. Due mainly to
    a rise in US ethanol output, forecast global
    industrial use is lifted by 3m. tons, to 231m.

    (218m.). World end-year stocks are projected to
    fall to 120m. tons (153m.), including 19m. (43m.) in
    the US. Forecast trade is unchanged, at 94m. tons
    (86m.). EU demand has strengthened, but import
    forecasts for Mexico and Canada are cut.


    Hey, great! Put some in a box and mail them to me!

    There are likely going to be some folks exploring that, but the cost of shipping from Peru are higher than from Mexico, so most importers will just wait for April.

    If this pattern starts to be a ‘regular’ though, expect someone to set up another source …

  9. R. de Haan says:

    1/4 of US grain production ends up as bio fuel?

    If Obama’s announcement made during his State of the Union becomes reality this amount is going to rise fast.

  10. tckev says:

    It’s a bad year for tomatoes…

    Australian crop washed out due to flood.

    The tomatoes are having a poor time on the Indian Sub-continent as well.
    This link also carries a link to “The unusually cold weather” in Bangladesh.
    Warming? Not in that part of the globe.

  11. Tim Clark says:

    grain: A small, dry, one-seeded fruit of a cereal grass, having the fruit and the seed walls united.

    cereal: A grass such as wheat, oats, or corn, the starchy grains of which are used as food.
    b. The grain of such a grass.
    2. Any of several other plants or their edible seed or fruit, such as buckwheat or grain amaranth.

    In college there was an unwritten definition that to be a cereal crop, it had to have greater than 60% starch.

  12. E.M.Smith says:


    The tomato was not a random choice on my part ;-)

    That “50 F at night to set fruit” is a very very useful thermometer…

    @R. de Haan:

    Oh Boy, more to read …

    The whold bio-fuels thing is such a boondogle. If we were serious about it, we’d be doing cellulosic or algae, not grain. Grain is just a sop to the ag belt voters… at the expense of 3 rd world mouths…

  13. DocMartyn says:

    I did a back of an envelop calculation on saltwater algae to replace the US liquid fuels. It would take about 2/3 rds of the Gulf of Mexico, which is a good place to grow it.
    The amounts of oil we consume, about a cubic mile of oil per year, are staggering.
    We could not replace this by growing anything on land. A canal to the great salt lakes or other deserts would work, but drive the fascists (or Greens as they prefer to be called) nuts.

  14. George says:

    This is not a good sign:

    TAIPEI — The Taiwan High Prosecutors Office vowed yesterday to harshly crack down on anyone caught hoarding food staples as part of the government’s efforts to stabilize food prices amid a string of price hikes following the Lunar New Year.

    The office said it has started collecting evidence by monitoring prices of major consumer products. Anyone found to have engaged in hoarding will be severely punished to the fullest extent of the law, it said.

  15. LarryOldtimer says:

    What is a bit scary is all of the geological events around the globe. Earthquakes and strong volcanic events. These things, together with the way colder than typical don’t bode well. Could all go away, of course, but this is typical of the start of an ice age. Only time will tell.

  16. E.M.Smith says:


    Um, there are some closed system algae processes with huge productivity. I’ve seen a similar ‘back of the envelope’ that put it at about the size of our present sewage treatment facilities. ( In one case, they used the sewage as ‘feed’ along with coal plant CO2. Algae is typically CO2 limited, so if you plop down next to a coal plant the productivity rises greatly. It’s not the land that’s the problem, it’s getting enough CO2.)

    A semi-random example:

    found about 33,000 gallons of oil per acre per year “theoretically possible” based on a lab scale grow. Even if you call it 10,000 it’s a heck of a lot. (Though again, the issue is getting enough CO2 in at non-lab scales…)

    So with plastic light pipes you can get about 10 x the growth (they grow on 1/10 full sun, but form a mat if you don’t pipe the light further in) and then just add concentrated CO2 from the coal / oil burner…


    Ouch! Taiwan is one of the Asian Tigres… if they are “having issues” it’s very much “not good”…

    It also bothers me to see folks who adequately take care of their own by way of inventory management called “hoarding”. At least here we have freedom of religion so you could always point that the Biblical admonition to have 7 years of grain in storage…

    Frankly, I’d like to have 1+ years of food storage and feel guilty that I’ve only got a couple of months. (Less when I end up sharing with the neighbors who have done nothing…)


    There is a historical pattern of quakes, volcanoes, and cold events happening together… That’s part of why I watch them all. Just watching to see if that pattern happens again…

  17. George says:

    Part of the problem is that word of mouth can create shortages where none really exist. A great demonstration of that fact was the “great toilet paper shortage” created by Johnny Carson.

    Back during the Carter administration, we seemed to be having one “shortage” after another. There was the gas shortage, the coffee shortage, the peanut butter shortage, and a few others. Carson as a joke said on The Tonight Show that there was a toilet paper shortage. The next day not only were store shelves stripped clean, but paper was disappearing from public restrooms as people took the whole roll with them (just in case).

    He finally had to apologize on the air that it was just a joke and ask people to stop hoarding toilet paper.

  18. George says:

    I guess 1973 would have been Nixon/Ford

  19. papertiger says:

    It’s ironic – if the oceans really were rising anything like the alarmists like to pretend, they would create natural gardens for the algae biofuel alarmists like to pretend will replace petroleum.

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