What You Need to Know About Growing Tomatoes Commercially
Tomatoes are immensely popular, and there are plenty of varieties that can make you a steady profit. If you’re thinking about growing tomatoes commercially, here’s a guide to get you started.
If you’re thinking about growing tomatoes for profit, now is the time to jump in. The US produces about 2.7 billion pounds of tomatoes every year. The industry is particularly strong in Florida where our healthy heat and long days create the perfect environment.
Perhaps this is your first foray into commercial growing or maybe you’re looking to expand into growing tomatoes. In either case, these tips can get you off to a strong start.
Tips for Growing Tomatoes in a Commercial Capacity
Even if you’ve grown tomatoes in your personal garden, a commercial operation is a whole different ballgame. Use these tips to jumpstart your business.
Study Your Local Tomato Market
In Florida, there are two potential harvesting times for tomatoes. You can plant them soon after the last frost, most often in early February. These crops will be ready for the market in early summer. You can also plant in September and harvest in late fall or early winter.
Do some research within your local market to find out which schedule is the most profitable. You might have plenty of local tomato growers who harvest in early summer but fewer who harvest in the fall. In this case, the later planting cycle may produce higher profits because you’ll have less competition.
There’s no reason you can’t take advantage of both growing cycles in the year. However, if you’re relying on the profits from your first harvest to fund your second one, start with the cycle that has more potential in your area.
You Need a Spacious Farm to Grow Tomatoes
Tomatoes are notorious for needing a lot of sunlight and a lot of air circulation. For this reason, you need to plant them a distance away from other tall plants and trees. They also shouldn’t be too close to any buildings for this reason. Before you invest in tomatoes, make sure your property’s layout will accommodate them.
Axillary Growth Can Put a Serious Damper on Your Crop Yield
Tomato plants have a tendency to produce a lot of axillary growth. This can crowd nearby plants and divert resources from your apical buds, leading to a smaller yield.
To boost your tomato yield, you need to trim axillary growth often. As your plants grow, trim the later growth on the lower portions of the plant. Make sure to leave enough leaves at the top of the plant for healthy energy absorption. A good rule of thumb is to leave about the top third of healthy leaves in place.
Invest in Plastic Mulch
Many people who grow tomatoes in their personal garden use cheaper mulch options. If you want a successful commercial operation, though, plastic mulch is worth the investment.
A plastic mulch layer will trap heat and moisture at your plants’ roots. This can have a strong effect on increasing your yield.
It’s vital to get the right type of plastic mulch, though. Different colors work better for different crops. For tomatoes, black plastic mulch tends to be the best option. Some red plastic mulch can be successful for tomato plants, but not all.
You Can Boost Your Yield by Trellising and Clipping Your Plants
If you’ve never grown tomatoes on a large scale, you make not know that the plants can grow to 30 feet tall or more. It’s imperative to control your plants’ growth by training them from their early stages.
Many growers use clips and trellis strings for this purpose. It’s best to train a bend in your plants so they each develop two apical points in opposite directions.
For an extra boost, use clips to add a bend or gentle twist into your plants. This can stimulate hormones that give your tomatoes faster and more productive growth.
Chances Are That You’ll Need to Force Pollination
Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve heard about the decline in the natural bee population. If you’re an experienced grower, you may have noticed it from personal experience.
As a result, you can’t rely on natural pollination to sustain and grow your tomato operation. For a successful yield, you should investigate how to create your own pollination.
In some cases, the easiest choice is mechanical pollination. This involves shaking your tomato plants to spread the pollen nearby.
There is specialized equipment that can do this for you. If you want to keep your costs low, though, you can do mechanical pollination by hand. Make sure you know how to be gentle enough to avoid damaging your plants, though.
If you’re growing your tomatoes in a greenhouse, you could also cultivate a beehive in the greenhouse. While this is more natural, it can be a challenge. If you’re new to greenhouse growing, maintaining bees may be a more time-consuming task than you want to take on.
The good news is that researchers are working on future solutions like robotic bees. For now, though, expect to use the tactics above.
Research Distribution Channels Before You Start Growing
This is a common mistake among new farmers or farmers who want to add a new crop. The last thing you want to do is invest in your tomatoes and end up with a giant yield with nowhere to sell it.
Make sure you have viable distribution channels before you start growing. If you’re already farming other crops, find out if your current distributors also handle tomatoes. If not, find out what distributors are available for tomatoes in your area.
Setting Up a Successful Tomato Operation
Farming for profit is as much an art as it is a science. You can collect tips and tricks from other farmers, and there are some ideas you’ll pick up along the way. As you make your way into growing tomatoes, start with heavy research but recognize that you’re in for a learning process as well.
If you’re ready to start building your tomato operation, reach out to our farming experts for all your equipment needs.