“Costa Rica is lining up to fill a gap between the winter and spring tomato greenhouse deal,” said Paul Mastronardi, executive vice president for Kingsville, Ontario-based Mastronardi Produce Ltd., which is marketing the imported tomatoes.

Mauricio Blanco, president of the greenhouse group exporting the tomatoes, the Association of Crop Producers under Controlled Medium, Alfaro Ruiz, Alajuela, Costa Rica, said 15 growers plan to ship tomatoes this season, and by next year, 22 more growers are scheduled to join the ranks.

Blanco said the tomato deal begins in May and ends in October.

The deal involves tomatoes from 25 acres this season, and growers are building 15 more acres of production for next season, Blanco said.

The association plans to export 100,000 kilograms — about 220,000 pounds — of tomatoes in the first six months, he said.

Costa Rica’s tropical climate gives it some advantages over Canada and Mexico, Mastronardi said.

“Canada and Costa Rica grow at different times of the year and Costa Rica can get product into the southeastern part of the U.S. faster than Mexico,” Mastronardi said.

Another advantage — Costa Rica has steady temperatures.

“In Mexico you could be at 0 degrees Fahrenheit at night and 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the day. That doesn’t happen in Costa Rica,” Mastronardi said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has allowed imports of tomatoes and peppers from Costa Rica for three years, but it wasn’t until earlier this month that its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service approved a rigorous phytosanitary program, said Melissa O’Dell, public affairs specialist for APHIS, in an e-mail.

“We have shown for the past three years that we have good handling practices,” Blanco said.

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