Mexico, one of the top 10 producers of tomatoes, is also its biggest exporter (p.18). In fact, 3 out of every 100 kilograms of tomatoes in the world come from Mexico. (p.29) In 2020, tomato exports from Mexico were worth USD 1.9 million (The challenges of tomato production and export in Mexico), a volume that benefits most importing countries, particularly the US.
Yields from tomato production in Mexico are measly compared to the top tomato producer in the world — China — which produced about 62.7 million tons of tomatoes in 2019. Despite this, Mexico has been the consistent leader in global tomato exports, so much so that the US’ tomato supply is contingent on Mexican tomatoes.
To find out more about tomato production in Mexico and its trade relationship with the US, read on below.
Tomato production in Mexico is being performed through various methods: about 40% are in greenhouses, 32.8% in open air, 26.4% under shade mesh, and 0.8% in macro tunnels. (The challenges of tomato production and export in Mexico)
With the nearly 3.5 million tons of tomatoes grown in Mexico in 2019, about 1.8 million tons were exported, which represents 23.6% of the world’s tomato exports (p.18). The estimated annual fresh tomato exports globally is at around 4.2 million tons. This means Mexican tomato exports comprise nearly half of the tomato exports all over the world.
The value of Mexican tomato exports have also increased from USD 406 million in
1995 to USD 2 billion in 2019. (p. 48) Of Mexico’s total tomato exports in 2019, 99.6% of this went to the US. (p. 18)
These tomato market trends only show that tomato production in Mexico is continuously increasing, and external demand for the produce, especially from the US, assists with the growth.
The US market consumes various types of tomatoes, including roma and bola tomatoes. (The challenges of tomato production and export in Mexico) Roma tomatoes are best used for canning, as well as in making sauces and salads. Meanwhile, bola tomatoes are big, round ones that are usually incorporated in salads, sandwiches, and salsa.
The US produces both of these tomato types in Florida. But US supplies of these tomatoes are still highly dependent on Mexico’s tomato production. (The challenges of tomato production and export in Mexico) Mexican bola and roma tomatoes constitute 45.4% and 79.8% of the US tomato supplies, respectively. (p. 53)
The US’ dependency on Mexican tomatoes is partly due to seasonal lulls and the continuous decline in US tomato production. (p.52) For example, in 2020 only around 590,000 tons of tomatoes were produced in the US, which is only about one-third of US tomato production in 2000.
Other factors affecting lower US tomato production also include higher cost of land, manpower shortages, and more frequent tropical storms and cyclones. In a 10-year period ending in 2019, the US increased its Mexican tomato imports by 60%. (The challenges of tomato production and export in Mexico)
Of the total tomato supplies that circulate in the US, 50% go to restaurants and food services, while the rest goes to supermarkets and self-service stores. (p. 53)
But before the tomatoes become available to customer-facing businesses, some of these establishments tap the sources of US-based tomato companies. Most of these companies get part of their supplies from Mexico, as well. The US-based tomato companies that highly depend on these Mexican tomato supplies include:
Add to that the demand for processed tomatoes in the US. The average per capita consumption of processed tomatoes in the US is 37.4 kilograms in a year. This is significantly higher than the average per capita consumption of processed tomatoes globally (about 5.6 kilograms). (p. 45) Processed tomatoes are largely grown in California, which produces 10 million tons.
Mexico’s increased tomato imports to the US cause adverse effects to the US tomato growers. This includes the drop of tomato prices for US producers. The University of Florida forecasts that if Mexico further increases its imports by 50% to the US in the coming years, US tomato growers could lose up to USD 252 million per year, or 27% in revenues. (The challenges of tomato production and export in Mexico)
But in 2020, Mexican tomato growers saw a decline in volumes due to the effects of the COVID pandemic in food service establishments. This was the effect of the 51% drop in retail spending on food service and drinking places between February and April 2020. (p. 50-51)
In addition, prices of Mexican bola tomatoes also soared to USD 20.20 per kilo in February 2020, more than double than year-ago prices due to impacts of climate changes in tomato production in Mexico. (p.54) While round Mexican tomatoes reached USD 35.09 in February 2020.
Prices of Mexican tomato imports are even expected to increase further following the US Department of Commerce’s suspension of the Tomato Suspension Agreement, which exempts Mexican tomato growers’ payment of duties. In effect, Mexican tomato exporters will have to pay 17.5% tax for its products. (p. 56-57)
Tomato production in Mexico is now seeing improvements in the post-pandemic environment. Case in point: Mexico’s annual planted area for 2021 is estimated at 45,403 hectares, due to post-pandemic recovery and better climate conditions. The 2021 tomato planting area reflects a 2% increase compared to the previous year.
According to the USDA, Mexican tomato growers and exporters have also sealed a realigned agreement with the US in relation to the Tomato Suspension Agreement, which is expected to provide more certainty for its tomato imports to the US. The agreement instead established reference prices for various types of tomatoes imported to the US, which range from 31 US cents to 82.60 cents per pound.
In the period between January to March 2021, Mexican tomato exports already saw a 5.1% increase year-over-year, valued at USD 829 million. Almost all of those tomato exports went to the US. Mexican tomato exports in the same quarter also increased by 9.5% to 579,000 tons.
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The challenges of tomato production and export in Mexico
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