tomatoNashville— Tennessee tomato growers have the opportunity to help build a foundation for their industry’s future at a number of scheduled meetings across the state beginning April 27.

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture has been granted federal Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) funds to launch the Tennessee Tomato Initiative, an effort to provide growers necessary information to determine whether a grower owned organization can increase national recognition and markets for Tennessee tomatoes.
The initiative group will gather, compile and distribute information to help growers make an informed decision in May through a grower vote about forming a Tennessee tomato growers organization.
Stanley Trout, consultant for the statewide initiative, will host three regional meetings to discuss with growers the benefits of forming a statewide growers association. “The goal of the association,” said Trout, “would be better promotion of the Tennessee tomato as a brand with inherent qualities, in much the same way that Vidalia onions are promoted.”

The first tomato initiative meeting is slated for April 27 in Pikeville, at 6:30 p.m. CDT/7:30 p.m. EDT at the Pig and Catch BBQ restaurant, 3651 Main Street. On April 30, growers will meet in Morristown at 7:00 p.m. EDT at the Best Western Plus Conference Center and Hotel, located at 5435 South Davy Crockett Parkway. A final May 5 meeting will be conducted at the Casey Jones restaurant at 7:00 p.m. CDT, 56 Casey Jones Lane in Jackson.

“There’ll be a give and take atmosphere at these meetings,” said Trout, “as we get input, and as we educate growers about this opportunity. We’ll discuss challenges facing the tomato industry in Tennessee and the potential that a grower owned association, working on behalf of its growers, could have to help Tennessee tomatoes have a competitive edge.”
Growers will hear about the kinds of associations most commonly found in the fresh produce industry and discuss the activities and benefits each type of association can provide, Trout said. “Growers have expressed an interest in a number of support programs, from an association to education, marketing, insurance programs, and supporting extension research.”

Growers traveling more than 25 miles to a meeting are eligible for mileage reimbursement, and a meal will be provided at each meeting.

“Tomatoes are a dynamic part of Tennessee’s rural economy,” said Trout. “Tennessee growers spend an estimated $23 million to grow this crop with another $10 million devoted to harvest and marketing.” Tennessee’s significant tomato industry includes more than 4,000 acres of production across all regions of the state, according to Trout. The 2012 Tennessee crop was valued at more than $60 million by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Services, making Tennessee the fifth largest producer of fresh market tomatoes in the nation.
To learn more about the Tennessee Tomato Initiative or about upcoming meetings for tomato growers, contact Stanley Trout at 615-971-0505 or email to Stanley_Trout@yahoo.com.