by Max Brantley
The first Bradley County tomatoes have been harvested, UA Co-operative Extension Service reports. In a month or so ....
WARREN, Ark. -- The first box of tomatoes in Bradley County in 2008 has been harvested, marking the start of a busy picking season. Bradley County and the surrounding area is the center of the state's tomato industry.
John Gavin, county extension agent with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, said brothers Craig and Jeff Wardlaw picked the tomatoes May 31 and brought them to his office Monday.
He said the county's 40 or so farmers compete every year to see who can produce the first box of vine-ripened tomatoes. The county has about 600 acres of tomatoes. The crop is usually valued at $6-8 million to the local economy from gate receipts. In a typical year, farmers will produce about a million 20-pound boxes of tomatoes valued at $6 to $8 a box.
ThePacker.com online publication said May 14 that a combination of lower acreage, high Arkansas fruit quality, weather woes in Florida and interest in regional deals should boost demand for Arkansas tomatoes this spring and early summer.
The Wardlaw operation is about 175 acres. Besides Craig and Jeff, the operation is farmed by another brother Marty Lee and their parents, Marty and Carla Wardlaw. The brothers grew up on the farm.
The Wardlaw farm markets its tomatoes through Mike Bradley, owner of Green Hill Farms Produce, Inc. Four or five other farmers are marketing through the local company.
Gavin said other farmers are beginning to harvest this week.
The tomato festival is next weekend, he said. "All next week we’ll have activities, but the main activities are June 13 and 14 on the town square."
For information about growing tomatoes contact your county extension agent or visit www.uaex.edu , select Search and type in tomatoes. The Cooperative Extension Service is part of the U of A Division of Agriculture.