When it comes to choosing a tomato variety, much attention needs to be given to the target market. When starting off, don’t choose a variety on the basis of it’s yield alone without first going to your sales outlet and having a look at what customers expect. A lower yield can bring in more income if you get that right. T he visual appearance is still the most important factor in this country – together with firmness which usually also relates to shelf-life.
The middle-man, which includes market agents and shopkeepers, places much emphasis on appearance. They don’t want to suffer losses due to waste. Eating quality does not even come into the equation if the customer is still buying something that looks presentable. Recently, in France, I noted that a tomato variety was selling at over €3/kg, whereas the normal type were selling for just over €1/kg. The expensive tomato was very ugly, being profoundly fluted and would be totally visually unacceptable on our market. It clearly must have had an exceptional taste and it’s ugliness made it recognisable from the other varieties. If one uses a variety with a superior taste and it looks like the rest, it will require expensive labelling and promotion to get it going, and it’s unlikely that it would have a yield and disease package equal to the market leaders.
Green shoulders have gone out of fashion, although a slight green shoulder can be acceptable especially when the fruit is sold red when the green shoulder is no longer visible. A pronounced green shoulder can develop into a yellow patch when ripe, which looks unappetising. When it comes to selling in boxes on the market, the appearance is not quite as critical and this can make a difference when marketing a variety with a higher yield or disease package. As long as the fruit is firm, the size and shape uniformity become less of an issue and could be more profitable than an alternative variety with a superior uniformity and neat appearance. The latter is usually a prerequisite for the prepack market.
The size issue is less important if they are properly graded. There are always buyers who prefer different sizes. Farmers prefer to work with larger tomatoes which pack quicker and so reduce labour costs of picking and packing. Certain prepack outlets require that the crop be within narrow parameters of size and shape. Prepack outlets will help you choose the variety and may even insist on a particular variety. usually give one a few options, which will enable you to choose the correct variety for the growing climate and likely diseases. When starting off, a lot of homework is necessary as the cost of tomato production does not allow you to make unnecessary errors without having to pay a huge penalty. – Bill Kerr ([email protected])