Long heatwave can cause locally grown tomatoes to fall into deficit

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Tomatoes. Source: ERR

Locally grown tomatoes might soon become deficit goods because the long heatwave has affected bumblebees, who have not done enough pollination, causing the tomato plants to lag behind in fruit development.

Tomatoes love the heat, but they are not tropical plants, Kätlin Leitaru, an agronomist at the Sagro horticultural company, told ETV's daily affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Tuesday. But this year has brought near-tropical conditions, where tomatoes have had to withstand temperatures up to 40 degrees in greenhouses.

"This heat affects both the tomato fruit's development and also the work of bumblebees, who are required to pollinate the tomatoes. They will not come out to do their job and fly in this heat," Leitaru said.

Bumblebees just do not have it in them, because all their energy goes toward cooling off their nests.

Mirko Metsaoru, an agronomist at Võiste farm, said it is not necessarily the hot days that hurt the tomatoes, but rather the warm nights. "The problem is that if the average daily temperature does not drop below 20 degrees, and we had 25, it just inhibits flower and fruit formation," Metsaoru said.

Even if fruits developed, it was not possible in most cases to grow them to be large enough for sale." They are all basically hard balls, to put it simply. They have no taste, they have no look, they are not like cherry tomatoes, they are visually dull even if they get color. I do not think they are anything that is enjoyable for people," Metsaoru explained.

Even if it is it for heatwaves this summer, local farms do not expect to get enough tomatoes on store shelves. Greater setbacks are expected for yellow, raspberry and beefsteak tomatoes, which are less heat tolerant.

"Unfortunately, it is not just one batch. Since this hot period has been long, it has also affected the next batches. We can see a setback coming for many of the plants here," Kätlin Leitaru said.

Good and ripe tomatoes will likely last for a couple of more weeks, but harvests will start to run out in August and farms already say they will likely run into difficulties meeting the contracts signed with stores.

"We hope this is a one-time extreme condition, but if this repeats, we must be able to cool off our greenhouses. And we do not have many options in our conditions. We do it with fine mist, increasing humidity and lowering temperatures. You will not be able to put air conditions in all greenhouses," Metsaoru said.

Sagro farm is considering painting the roofs of greenhouses in a special white color. It would help during heatwaves, but it would bring more bad than good, if the next summer happened to be rainier.

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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