Florida’s Paul DiMare builds
wide-ranging produce business
Anative of Massachusetts, Paul DiMare grew up in the family produce business and expanded its operations to production and distribution locations in Florida and throughout the U.S., becoming the largest tomato farmer in
the U.S. — known by his nickname, “Mr. Tomato.”
His success as a tomato and vegetable farmer has earned
DiMare the honor of state winner of the Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt
Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. He joins nine state
winners as finalists for the overall award that will be announced
Tuesday, Oct. 18, at the Sunbelt Expo.
Though he has cut back on tomato production in recent years,
DiMare and his companies remain major U.S. players in growing
and marketing tomatoes and other produce.
He lives in Coral Gables, Fla., and has production facilities in
south Florida and California. He and his companies own additional
packing, repacking, and distribution facilities in several states, and
he and his family own and operate packing facilities in Florida,
California, Texas, Illinois, and Pennsylvania.
DiMare repacking facilities also reach nationwide markets,
providing peppers, cucumbers, squash, and other vegetables
in consumer-friendly packaging. “We buy a lot of di;erent
vegetables and repack them in containers that consumers buy in
their grocery stores,” he says.
A FAMILY HERI TAGE
He traces the start of his family’s vegetable business to the
1920s, when his dad and his dad’s two brothers started selling
vegetables from a pushcart on the streets of Boston. The brothers
started farming in the 1940s.
DiMare himself has been a farmer for 62 years. He moved
to Florida in 1964; the first year he farmed there, he grew his
crops on 150 acres of rented land. Now, his farming operations
encompass 1,350 acres of owned land.
Tomatoes have always been — and remain — the main crop
that DiMare produces. He says good per acre tomato yields are
about 1,500 to 1,600 25-pound boxes. “Our tomatoes yield more
in the spring and less in the winter,” he says. Recent tomato
yields were only 1,200 boxes, mainly due to weather setbacks. It
costs $10,000 or more per acre to grow tomatoes. Virus diseases
transmitted by insects are among the biggest production
challenges in growing tomatoes, he says.
DiMare’s farm was one of the first in the U.S. to use methyl
bromide to fumigate soil for growing tomatoes. “Fumigation
helped us triple our yields,” he says. Methyl bromide has since
been removed from the market, and DiMare says replacement
fumigants aren’t nearly as e;ective.
He was also one of the earliest adopters of plastic mulch and
drip irrigation, both now standard practices for e;cient large
scale tomato farming. In addition, DiMare’s farms were among the
earliest users of solid set irrigation for freeze protection.
COMPETITION FROM IMPORTS
DiMare’s most recent production innovations include investments
in organic and greenhouse tomatoes.
In previous years, he was a major grower of tomatoes in
Pennsylvania and on John’s Island near Charleston in South
Carolina. But, he says, imported tomatoes and other produce have
cut into markets for U.S.-grown vegetables. “We’re only growing a
third of what we used to farm, mainly due to imports from Mexico
U.S. vegetable crops that are planted often go unpicked due to
labor shortages, he says. “We need people to pick our crops, and
our agricultural labor problems need to be fixed.”
If current trends in food imports and labor shortages continue,
DiMare warns, food production for U.S. consumers will essentially
become outsourced to foreign providers.
While other large produce growers typically hire brokers to
handle sales, DiMare says family members handle his sales. “We
are vertically integrated,” he says. “That means we can control the
growing, packing, selling, re-packing, and distribution of the food
Paul DiMare and wife Swanee.