Georgia tomato producers lost an estimated $13.9 million in total production value this year due to an alert issued by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration this past June warning that some types of tomatoes might be linked Salmonella outbreak.

The losses were calculated in a recent study released by the University of Georgia (UGA) Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development that was prepared by economist Archie Flanders. While the FDA listed Georgia tomatoes as being safe to eat throughout the time of the warning — June 7-July 17 — there still was a decreased demand due to consumers' safety concerns and confusion as to which tomatoes were safe to eat.

The FDA issued a nationwide warning to consumers linking the outbreak of salmonella to the consumption of some raw red plum, red Roma, round red tomatoes and products containing these types of raw tomatoes. Although Georgia spring-season tomatoes were deemed safe for consumption, and the state was included in a list of growing areas that were not associated with the outbreak, consumers still had a negative perception of the produce, according to the UGA report.

A decreased demand for Georgia tomatoes resulted in diminished markets for all tomatoes, with total production values losses in the state totaling about $13.9 million. Losses averaged approximately $11,778 per acre for tomatoes not sold.

Total Georgia grower expenses for 2008 tomatoes harvested and packed, but not sold, resulted in an additional $1.6 million loss in farmer net income. Loss for tomatoes that were harvested but not sold was $6,111 per acre leading to total losses of $17,889 per acre.

The loss in production value has negative impacts in the Georgia economy as decreased grower income leads to diminished economic activity, according to the report. The decreased output impact totals $11.8 million, and combined with the decline in tomato sales, the total economic output decrease in the Georgia economy is $25.7 million.

Georgia tomato production is concentrated in nine counties located in the southwestern portion of the state. One county in northeast Georgia has significant production.

This past year, the top 10 Georgia counties in tomato production, listed in descending order, were Decatur, Colquitt, Echols, Rabun, Tift, Lowndes, Seminole, Fayette, Grady and Mitchell. Almost 6,000 acres of tomatoes were grown in Georgia in 2007 with a farm gate value of nearly $55 million.

According to the Georgia Vegetable Growers Association, 60 percent of annual tomato production occurs during the spring season. The average yield for 2005-2007 was 353 cwt. per acre. This yield is equivalent to 1,412 boxes weighing 25 pounds each. Average price during 2005-2007 was $8.33 per box. This leads to a three-year annual average value of production for the Georgia spring tomato crop of $42.4 million.

In compiling the University of Georgia report, a survey instrument was designed to determine the value of sales lost due to diminished tomato demand caused by the U.S. salmonella outbreak in some tomato types. Individual tomato growers were surveyed by Georgia county agents in counties with significant tomato acreage, and individual grower responses were weighted by 2008 acreage harvested to quantify an aggregate state loss value.

The grower survey indicates that 2008 spring-planted tomato acreage in Georgia is 80 percent of the 2007 acreage. Reduced acreage planted leads to an expected 2008 production value of $33.9 million.

According to the report, survey results determined the weighted percentages of acres not harvested due to lack of demand as well as acres harvested but not sold. The balance is equal to the percentage of acres harvested with tomatoes sold.

Survey results show that 32 percent of total tomato acreage was left in the field or not harvested due to decreased demand. Tomato acreage harvested with tomatoes later discarded due to decreased demand composed 9 percent of the acreage. The balance of acreage, or 59 percent, was harvested and the tomatoes sold.

The value of 2008 Georgia spring tomato production with only 59 percent of acreage harvested and sold at the normal market price is $20 million. This represents a $13.9 million loss in revenue for tomato growers due to reduced tomato demand.

Economic impacts of the FDA warning represent losses throughout the state, but are concentrated in tomato-producing counties, states the report.