The current growing season has made it evident that commercial tomato crops are struggling with the effects of climate change, extreme drought conditions, and rising water prices. The combination of these factors results in the supply of domestically grown tomatoes falling below their market demand. What does this mean for you? Expect to pay more at the register for tomato-based products like pasta sauces, salsa, ketchup, and juice. You may also see menu prices rise for pizza, pasta, and other restaurant foods that rely on these types of tomato products.
Why is A Tomato Shortage Happening?
The truth is, there is no one factor that has resulted in the upcoming shortage. We first started seeing issues with growing tomato crops when rainfall began to decline in California. Since 2000 California has seen many stretches of drought that led to the official declaration of a state of emergency in 2014. Why is this so important to realize? Because drought conditions increase the cost of crop production.
Farmers have been paying increasingly higher costs to use water from reservoirs. Because the annual rainfall has fallen by almost 50% in California, farmers are focusing on crops that have lower water needs or a high monetary value. Paste tomatoes, the ones used to make the products you are familiar with, require a lot of water! Thus, they have been one of the main crops to be scaled back throughout California.
Why is scaling back on tomato crops a big deal? California produces 96% of tomatoes in the U.S. and about 25% of the world’s supply. However, the number of tomatoes and tomato products we export is dropping as the price tag rises.
Okay, so the U.S. is producing fewer tomatoes. Why is this such a big deal now in 2022? In addition to the increasingly prominent droughts, climate change has led to higher temperatures. That combination is a recipe for the death of tomatoes. In an effort to cut their losses, farmers are allowing large portions of their crops to die. Instead of spreading their limited water supply over their entire farm, they are working to salvage their most valuable crops with the resources they can afford.
With all of these factors working against us you can expect to see shortages of basic tomato products such as ketchup, pasta sauces, tomato sauces, and canned tomatoes over the next year or more.
We recommend doing yourself a favor now by preserving your current harvest. Can and bottle tomatoes to make your favorite sauces from scratch. Do you love using tomato juice for drinks and smoothies? Bottle it yourself. Do you enjoy fresh salsa? Don’t let this year's garden harvest go to waste. Instead, preserve your homemade salsa until next year's harvest. Plan ahead! Stock up on your favorite tomato seeds to guarantee tomatoes in 2023’s home garden.
How to Preserve Tomatoes
As a whole, people have continually relied more and more on businesses providing our food in every form. Like periods of time throughout history, we are living in pockets of uncertainty. But really, we don’t have to. Like your grandmothers, you can guarantee fresh fruits and vegetables all year long by preserving your garden harvest. Try bottling, canning, drying, freezing, and more to keep food on your shelves.
Freezing Tomatoes - You can either freeze fresh tomatoes as slices, whole, or diced. To better preserve the sliced shape, freeze flat on a cookie sheet. Whole tomatoes should be skinned and cored before freezing in a bag. Easily remove the skin by soaking the whole tomato in boiling water for about 30 seconds.
Bottling (Canning) Tomatoes - Bottling is one of the most popular methods for preserving freshly harvested fruits and vegetables. To save tomatoes you will want to prepare the tomatoes by removing the skins and cutting them into smaller sizes such as halves, quarters, or pieces.
Before adding the tomatoes to the mason jars, add some lemon juice, salt, and sugar. Then, pack your tomatoes into the jars leaving a small space at the top to prevent leaking. The next step will require a bottling water bath or large pot to sterilize and process your jars.
Place a lid on each jar and add it to the water bath. The jars need to rest on a rack to prevent the heat from the bottom of the pot from breaking the glass jars. Be sure to completely cover the jars with water (2 inches over the jar tops). Heat in your canning water bath to create a sealing vacuum effect on the lids. While this description will help you know more about the basic process, we recommend using this guide to walk you through every step from start to finish.
How to Save Tomato Seeds
If you grow a garden there is no need to worry about a shortage of seeds with the right skill set. You can save your own seeds year to year for a sure supply. Saving seeds is relatively easy, but tomatoes can prevent a slight challenge. Check out our "Seed Saving" article for a step-by-step guide to saving all kinds of seeds.