If you’re thinking about starting a tomato farm, you’ll be in good company. They are the most widely grown vegetable in America.
Need a little more convincing before you start preparing for that first harvest? Then how about the fact 11.19 million tons of these plants were produced in 2019?
Read on for a complete guide on how to start tomato farming. Remember that tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family of plants that includes peppers and potatoes.
Table of Contents
Is Tomato Farming Profitable?
Tomato growers can make a good profit, but the prices fluctuate and production costs can be high. Even though these are perennial plants, they don’t do well in cold winters. However, if you’re already growing other crops, tomatoes make a great companion plant. For example, you may look into how to start potato farming or sunflower farming in addition to growing tomatoes.
Heirloom tomatoes have a retail price of three dollars per pound. Sell a crop at six dollars per pound in your gross profit is four dollars per tomato. Some estimates say that you can get 1,5oo 25-pound cartons of tomatoes per acre.
Most growers grow tomato plants from seeds indoors. Commercial farming techniques to grow tomatoes also involve drip irrigation. And transplanting the seedlings.
If you’re ready to learn how to start a farm with tomatoes, here are some steps to help you get started with these plants.
1. Develop a Farm Business Plan
Your farm business plan is a framework to get funding and gauge your success. The USDA has an excellent checklist to reference.
2. Identify the Right Growing Conditions
Soil types make a difference for outdoor tomatoes. Analysis should point to slightly acidic pH levels of 6.2 to 6.8. Remember this is a warm-season crop.
3. Choose the Right Variety of Tomatoes
Certain growers prefer different tomato varieties. With cooler temperatures, a shorter growing season is a factor.
Growing habits matter too. Some determinate varieties grow to be about three feet tall. Other types of determinate tomatoes produce fruit for longer periods of time.These factors and others affect tomato cultivation times.
4. Know When to Plant Tomato Seedlings
Late spring or early summer is a good time to plant tomato seeds. Mid-March to early April seedlings should be about 3 to 4 inches tall before you transplant them.
5. Find and Develop the Ideal Tomato Crop Terrain
Warmer soil is best for root development. An inadequate water supply will stunt the growth of the entire plant. Check factors like the water intake rate before planting tomatoes.
A drip irrigation system is an excellent way to irrigate these plants. This system boosts nutrient availability too.
6. Research Pest and Disease Control Methods
When it comes to tomatoes, this is about much more than weed control. Weather conditions like high humidity can make a difference and infect your tomatoes. Here are some other tomato diseases to keep an eye out for.
Blossom End Rot
Overwatering the plants can cause this. Improper pruning during tomato cultivation is another reason.
Tobacco Mosaic Virus
Plant tissue is the culprit. Specifically an infected leaf rubs against a healthy one.
See Also:How to Start a Strawberry Farm
Many crops have this issue. Peppers and potatoes as well as tomatoes have leaves that turn brown.
This issue is caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans. It can begin with infected tomato seeds.
This thrives in warm temperatures. The plants wilt and the leaves turn yellow.
There’s no effective treatment. You’ll need to dispose of the plant, right down to the root system. Red flags include yellow v-shaped leaves.
South America (Tuta Absoluta)
Not a disease but a pest. It’s been called the South American tomato leafminer.
7. Prepare Your Soil
Many farmers plan for good tomato cultivation by tweaking the soil conditions early on. Tomatoes cannot grow in sandy soils. Plants depend on dirt that’s rich in organic matter. Put compost or even fish heads in the dirt where the root ball will grow.
8. Plant Your Seedlings
Leaving space between seedlings helps them to grow. These should be spaced 30 to 48 inches apart. And the rows need to have a space of 48 inches between them.
8. Harden off Your tomato plants
When pursuing agricultural business ideas like tomato farming, you need to follow the procedures for your specific crops. Start this step around the last average frost date. Gradual exposure to wind and light is essential.
9. Transplant Your Seedlings
Soil depth matters. Transplant tomatoes when they are about 3-4″ tall. Watch the soil temperature. A late cold snap can kill them. Plant spacing is important too. Leave 6” between them.
10. Maintain Your Crops and Keep Them Healthy
Water stress happens when the leaves don’t get enough moisture. The edges die. Here are some other tips to keep tomatoes healthy. When they reach a certain height, gently tie them to stakes. That keeps the fruit set in place so they don’t snap the stems. Start when they are 6 to 10 inches high.
The small shoots that sprout from the stem are called tomato suckers. A sharp pruner can remove suckers when they are small.
Controlling weeds is another chore. Using landscape fabric between rows is efficient.
11. Consider Investing in a Greenhouse, Nursery, or Tunnel House
This is a good way to extend your growing season. Not only that, the nursery protects tomatoes from rain which can promote fungal diseases.
Nursery preparation might involve cooling the space during the day and heating it at night.
12. Identify Your Market
As far as organic agriculture business ideas go, growing tomatoes is profitable. The total market in 2022 was valued at $43.4 million dollars USD.
Market drivers include snack foods, food processing, and home use. Tomatoes get used in the hospitality and dining sectors.
Selling at farmers’ markets is an option if you’re a small-scale operation.
13. Develop Your Marketing Strategy
Marketing tomatoes can use a multichannel approach. If you have a social media platform like a Facebook Page or a website, use SEO. Search engine optimization starts with the right keyword. Don’t forget to geographically tag them to attract local consumers. So, a keyword like “tomatoes in Philadelphia” will attract people there.
Secondary racks and displays are important if you’re selling through a brick-and-mortar outlet. Dry tables located outside the entrance to the store push the tomatoes you have for sale.
Cross-merchandising is another effective method. If you can team up with an outlet that will display avocados with your tomatoes, all the better.
‘How to’ guides and recipes suggesting how tomatoes can be served and cooked are great incentives.
14. Harvest Your Ripe Tomatoes
The tomato fruit should be eaten fresh. There are two schools of thought about when you should harvest the fruit. The first plant is in March or April. A second plant can start as soon as the leaves on the first one start to die off.
- Some experts say you should wait for it to turn the color it’s supposed to be, either yellow, orange, or red.
- Other tomato farmers and gardeners swear by picking the fruit at what’s called the breaker stage. This is when the tomato has gone from green to light orange.
There are exceptions to both. Tomatoes should be picked before the temperature drops to below 45°F.
Troubleshooting Common Tomato Plant Issues
Dry periods and other environmental conditions can affect your crop. Here are a few other things to look for and what you can do about each.
The symptom is flowers appearing on your tomato plants that fall off without any of the fruit developing. Fluctuations in temperature cause this issue. Use the right fertilizer.
Ripe tomatoes appear cracked when this begins. Hot humid rainy weather causes this problem. The solution is to water your tomatoes while they grow.
Plants start out looking healthy but develop yellow patches. Those turn white. As the name suggests, this problem happens when the sun scalds your tomatoes. Tomato cages or another type of wire support surrounding the plants provide branch support and the solution.
How Many Tomatoes Can 1 Plant Produce?
The type of tomato makes a difference. But generally, you get 18 fruits per plant. However, there are types like the Roma Tomato. They yield 30 fruits per plant. All tomatoes contain about 20 milligrams of vitamin C.
What State is the Largest Producer of Tomatoes?
Wondering about the best states to start a farm? Consider California. They produced 217.3 million cwt (hundredweight) of tomatoes there in 2022.
Image: Envato Elements
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How to Start Tomato Farming for Profit? ›
For market growers, heirloom tomatoes can bring big profits – as much as $100 per plant – and repeat sales from customers who are eager to buy heirloom tomatoes for the taste they simply can't find in a supermarket tomato.How much money can you make from an acre of tomatoes? ›
|Estimated Cost||$1,840 per acre; harvest June and July|
|Yield Potential||8000- 16000 lbs/acre|
|Profit Potential||$0 to $2,000 per acre|
|Adapted Areas||Best near metropolitan areas|
|Labor Requirements||Three men per 5 acres, double during harvest. Hand harvested.|
For market growers, heirloom tomatoes can bring big profits – as much as $100 per plant – and repeat sales from customers who are eager to buy heirloom tomatoes for the taste they simply can't find in a supermarket tomato.How much does it cost to farm tomatoes? ›
The cost of producing a tomato crop varies substantially from season to season. It is generally accepted in the industry that this cost can range for $. 50 per pound to $. 95 per pound.Can you make a living by selling tomatoes? ›
At an average retail price of $3 per pound, a single tomato plant can produce more than 100 pounds of tomatoes over its lifetime. What is this? If you can sell the crop for $6 a pound, you will make a gross profit of $4 per tomato! That's more profit than most vegetable crops.How much does a farmer get for a pound of tomatoes? ›
While the national, monthly average price of such tomatoes at grocery stores fell 11 cents to $1.85 per pound in 2021, the monthly average price received by farmers simultaneously fell 16 cents to $0.56 per pound.Are tomatoes a good investment? ›
The taste and nutritional value of a home-grown tomato picked at peak ripeness are light years ahead of supermarket fare. The cost of store-bought tomatoes coupled with the likely yield makes this gardening's best investment.
In California, the price of tomatoes in the processing market was valued at about 111 U.S. dollars per ton in 2022.How much do tomato farmers make? ›
California Tomato Farmers pays an average salary of $442,675 and salaries range from a low of $382,863 to a high of $515,618.How much should I charge for homegrown tomatoes? ›
Simple Pricing Structures
Tomatoes are most commonly sold by the pound, but consider the power of selling the fruits individually. It could work this way: Tomatoes are simply paired together by size. So, smaller ones might be $1 each while larger ones go for $1.50.
Is it cheaper to buy or grow tomatoes? ›
The six most cost-effective vegetables to grow in a home garden are curly kale, tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli, potatoes, and asparagus, according to Country Living. While starting vegetables from seed may save the most money, buying plants may also save some money depending on the amount yielded.Is there a demand for tomatoes? ›
Tomato Market News
The tomato market is anticipated to continue to expand alongside population and economic growth, particularly in emerging countries. There has been an expansion into the organic food industry to cater to the increasing demand.
Outdoor Tomato Yields
Yields on outdoor tomato farming on stalked crops are on average 60-100 tonnes per hectare (53.553 – 89.255 lbs per acre). Determinate varieties, however, do not usually yield more than 30-50 tonnes per hectare (26.776 -44.627 lbs per acre) due to their smaller crop cycle.
Choosing the packaging for your tomatoes really depends on how you want to sell them. Tomato boxes are great for wholesaling in bulk quantities, whereas clamshells make an easy to grab container for consumers. Tomato baskets really show off your tomatoes as "farm fresh", whereas trays market your tomatoes as high end.How are tomato pickers paid? ›
Pickers are paid per bucket, on average 40 cents. To earn roughly $50, a worker must pick about two tons of tomatoes—a day.How much do tomatoes sell for? ›
In 2022, the retail price of field-grown tomatoes in the United States was 2.23 U.S. dollars per pound, an increase from the previous year. The average price of tomatoes has fluctuated considerably over the past two and a half decades.What farming makes the most money? ›
Livestock is probably the most common way farmers make money from their land. And while animals have a few more expenses and a higher overhead, they usually bring in top dollar in terms of net income.What is the easiest farm to start? ›
- Tree Nursery. A tree nursery can be a great investment when done right. ...
- Fish Farming. Fish farming is an ideal business idea for investors with available land, and it doesn't always require a body of water. ...
- Dual Crop Farming. ...
- Dairy Farming. ...
- Herb Gardening. ...
- Bee Farming. ...
- Aquaponics. ...
- Microgreens Farming.
- Microgreens. Microgreens are a popular choice of farmers as they take up little space, have a quick turnaround, and have high cash value. ...
- Mushrooms. Growing mushrooms can be a very profitable business. ...
- Bamboo. ...
- Ginseng. ...
- Garlic. ...
- Broiler Chickens. ...
How many tomatoes in a 25 lb box? ›
A 25-pound box of tomatoes may contain the following: 5x6 (formerly extra large tomatoes) about 38-62 tomatoes. 6x6 (formerly large tomatoes) about 62-80 tomatoes. 6x7 (formerly medium tomatoes) about 87-115 tomatoes.What are tomatoes selling for a bushel? ›
|tomatoes, heirloom||$12.50/peck, $50.00/bushel|
|tomatoes, italian||$12.50/peck, $50.00/bushel|
|tomatoes, slicing||$12.50/peck, $50.00/bushel|
|tomatoes, small early||$12.50/peck, $50.00/bushel|
How many tomatoes are in a pound? One pound of tomatoes equals about 2 large or 3 medium-sized tomatoes. What is the yield from one pound of tomatoes? One pound will yield about 2 1/2 cups chopped, 3 cups wedged and 3 cups sliced tomatoes.What company buys the most tomatoes? ›
McDonald's is now the biggest purchaser in the world of beef, pork, potatoes, lettuce and tomatoes, and the second-biggest buyer of chicken, after KFC. When it decided to add apple slices to Happy Meals a few years ago, the company quickly became the biggest buyer of the shiny red fruit in the United States.Do tomatoes come back annually? ›
Favorites like tomatoes, beans and cucumbers complete their entire life cycle in a single growing season and are killed by the first hard frost. There are few true perennial vegetable plants that come back year after year.What vegetables are most profitable? ›
Microgreens are some of the most profitable vegetables to grow because they produce a lot per square foot and sell for a lot. Ginseng is a plant that is known for its medicinal root that grows slowly. There are two main kinds of ginseng that are grown.How many tomatoes in a truck? ›
How much does a tomato truck hold? A typical tomato truck holds 50,000 pounds of tomatoes, which is about 300,000 tomatoes.Why are tomatoes so expensive in the US? ›
But while most of the tomatoes consumed in the U.S. — fresh, canned, and otherwise — come from California, factors like the ongoing drought, rising fuel prices, and a changing climate are making the fruit harder and more expensive to grow.Which is the best month to plant tomatoes? ›
Tomatoes are warm-season plants that do not tolerate frost or chilly temperatures. We normally recommend planting early to mid-May when the danger of frost has past and soil has had a chance to warm.Who is the largest tomato farmer in the US? ›
Fresh Market Tomatoes
Lipman is America's largest field tomato grower focused on providing a dependable and sustainable tomato supply chain.
What is the number 1 tomato producing country? ›
China is the world's largest tomato producer with 64.768 million mT, i.e. 34.67% of the world's total production.Why are tomato plants so expensive? ›
A drought has destroyed Californian tomatoes
The reason why tomatoes and tomato products have become so particularly expensive is that the drought in California has killed off so many tomatoes that there is a shortage.
Why are Heirloom Tomatoes So Expensive? Heirloom tomatoes are expensive because they are not mass-produced. With fewer available (than hybrids), their price typically stays high. Heirlooms are not disease resistant, their vines produce less per acre than hybrid varieties, and they do not travel well.What time of year are tomatoes cheapest? ›
Tomatoes are less expensive during the summer and fall. If you find a great price on tomatoes, spend a weekend making spaghetti sauce for the next several months. This will ensure you don't have to buy tomatoes during the months when they are priced higher.What's the cheapest vegetable to grow? ›
- Lettuce. You may have noticed the price of lettuce has risen considerably in the past two years. ...
- Bell Peppers. ...
- Garlic. ...
- Winter Squash. ...
- Tomatoes. ...
Tomato production can be highly profitable, but you need to choose your tomato type and cultivar with care, says Bill Kerr. Saladette tomatoes are slowly gaining ground. Tomatoes, like potatoes, can offer the farmer handsome rewards.Is gardening worth it financially? ›
Growing your own food is a healthy way to save money and enjoy fresh produce at home. When done correctly, even the smallest backyard plot can produce copious amounts of fruits and vegetables and possibly even a significant saving to the grocery budget.What to avoid when buying tomatoes? ›
Pick firm tomatoes that are free of bruises and cracks. Ideally, they'll exude a fresh tomato aroma. Look for intense color (again, they come in many colors) and firm texture that gives a little when pressed. Tomatoes should be free of blemishes, cracks, or sunken spots, and smell intensely of tomato.How many times a year do tomatoes produce? ›
Determinate tomato plants are "programmed" to grow, bloom and fruit just once during a growing season, says The Old Farmer's Almanac. After the fruits on these compact plants are borne, the plants produce no more fruits and eventually die.How long does it take to grow tomatoes? ›
How long does it take to grow Tomatoes? Depending on the variety—early-, mid-, or late-season—and local weather conditions, Tomatoes take 50 to more than 80 days to grow from seedling to harvest. Consider early- or mid-season cultivars if you live in a USDA Zone with a relatively short growing season.
How many tomatoes can you grow on 5 acres? ›
Field grown fresh market tomatoes can be planted at densities of 3,200–5,700 plants per acre if unstaked or, 2,400–3,200 plants per acre if staked. Processing tomatoes which are grown unstaked can be planted at densities of 4,000–4,800 plants per acre.How much water does an acre of tomatoes need? ›
Tomatoes require a constant supply of moisture during the growing season. In field situations, tomatoes require 214 - 706 thousand gallons/acre of water per season to produce a high yielding crop.
Tomatoes produced on plastic mulch with drip irrigation will commonly average more than 1,500 25-pound cartons per acre. Select varieties that have yield potential that equals or surpasses this average. Plants also need to produce adequate foliage to protect fruit.What are best tasting tomatoes? ›
- Brandywine tomato. ...
- Cherokee Purple tomato. ...
- Sun Gold tomato. ...
- Black Krim tomato. ...
- Pineapple tomato. ...
- Mortgage Lifter tomato. ...
- Kellogg's Breakfast tomato. ...
- Green Zebra tomato.
In the 1930s Pittston was dubbed the "Tomato Capital of the World," because it fulfilled the high demand for tomatoes by metropolitan New York. Pittston is located in the northeast region of the state and its soil and climate are especially conducive to tomato breeding.Where do tomatoes grow best? ›
Tomato plants will grow well in well-drained sites that receive full sun for most of the day. The soil pH should be slightly acidic (6.2 to 6.8). Excess nitrogen can result in plants with lush, vigorous foliage but little fruit production.How much does a tomato farmer make a year? ›
How much do California Tomato Farmers employees earn on average in the United States? California Tomato Farmers pays an average salary of $442,675 and salaries range from a low of $382,863 to a high of $515,618.What farmers make the most money? ›
Livestock is probably the most common way farmers make money from their land. And while animals have a few more expenses and a higher overhead, they usually bring in top dollar in terms of net income.How much does it cost to plant an acre of tomatoes? ›
Labor costs down
Tom Goeke says it costs him about $15,000 to put in an acre of tomatoes. This year he planted three acres. At about five thousand plants per acre, he's a midsized grower with at least 15,000 plants.
Productive heirloom tomato varieties will produce 20 pounds or more of salable tomatoes, worth about $80 at retail prices. That's a return of $13 per square foot of growing area. Planting about 3,000 square feet with 500 plants (that's only 1/15th of an acre.) could bring $40,000.
Which state grows the most tomatoes? ›
To save money, grow more expensive items, like tomatoes and melons, or large quantities of vegetables that you purchase regularly. Consider vegetables like beans, beets, onions, spinach, broccoli, peppers, carrots, summer squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce, peas, and Swiss chard.What type of tomatoes do commercial growers use? ›
There are two types of tomatoes commonly grown. Most commercial varieties are determinate. These “bushy” types have a defined period of flowering and fruit development. Most heirloom garden varieties and greenhouse tomatoes are indeterminate, which means they produce flowers and fruit throughout the life of the plant.