Italy’s industrial tomato campaign starts amid difficult weather conditions

Over the past three months, unfavorable weather conditions in Northern Italy have cast a shadow on the upcoming harvest, posing a significant risk to the region's agricultural yield. Concurrently, the market is facing the threat of low-cost tomato concentrate flooding in from China, potentially undermining the entire sector

Recently released data by Anicav (Italian Association of Vegetable Food Processing Industries) projects a 2023 industrial tomato harvest campaign reaching an impressive 5.6 million tons in Italy. However, Alessandro Squeri, the General Director of Steriltom, a prominent Italian company specializing in shelf-stable tomato production, expresses reservations about the figures, particularly concerning Northern Italy. Squeri attributes his skepticism to “the devastating impact of recent hailstorms, which significantly reduced the available hectares for harvesting and subsequently led to a decline in yields.”

In the Romagna area, for instance, the aftermath of a massive flood last May was compounded by five subsequent hailstorms in the last month and a half. These adverse weather events have taken a toll on the agricultural landscape, leading Squeri to warn, “The campaign in Northern Italy is facing challenges, and we anticipate losses exceeding -15% compared to the initial estimates, with some areas experiencing declines of up to -30%.”

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Beyond the weather-related setbacks, another looming concern is the rise in foreign competition, particularly from China, which has flooded the European market with industrial tomato concentrate at highly competitive prices. While such products may appear cost-effective, Squeri highlights the potential risks, including “elevated pesticide levels, environmental damage, and a lack of traceability and supply chain control.” He also stresses the ethical concerns, such as “potential violations of labor rights and their impact on local populations, issues that have even garnered the attention of the United Nations.”

In response to these unfair trade practices, the entrepreneur calls for robust European-level intervention to safeguard the domestic market and establish stringent regulations on imports from third countries, emphasizing ethical and sustainability considerations, akin to measures recently taken by the United States and the UK.

Despite the challenging circumstances, Steriltom remains committed to fulfilling pre-orders from its longstanding customer base. Working together with over 200 farmers and 700 employees, Squeri asserts its determination to maintain operations at peak efficiency. The company’s efforts were exemplified in 2022 when it successfully processed over 4.2 million quintals of tomatoes, generating a turnover of 155 million euros.

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