"The river of tomatoes"

Cargill Brazil and tomatoes - from growing to processing to canning


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"The river of tomatoes"

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vertical-dotted-line Agriculture in Goiás, Brazil. Giving thanks for a bountiful harvest.


Agriculture in Goiás, Brazil
Giving thanks for a bountiful harvest

A procession along the highway shows the state’s strong traditions in agriculture. Long-horn cattle pull wooden carts followed by men and women on horseback. They are on a pilgrimage to the local cathedral to thank St. Jerome, patron saint of agriculture, for a bountiful harvest.


Cargill Brazil’s tomato business begins with 200 million tomato seedlings. With the help of Brazilian growers, agronomists and plant employees, Cargill Brazil learns about "the river of tomatoes." 

The setting: Goiás, a tomato-producing state 

Goiás, Brazil's largest tomato-producing state and located in the center of the country, is hot and dry—a perfect climate for tomatoes.  

Cargill’s tomato processing plant in Goiânia, the largest city in Goiás, is the setting for this tomato journey.

Crop inputs from seedlings to technical advice

Farmers receive all crop inputs, from seedlings to weekly technical advice from Cargill’s team of agronomists. Agronomists discuss harvest, production and safety. In fact, part of the job of the Cargill agronomists when they visit farms is to check that workers have the required safety equipment and that there is no one underage working in the fields.

Tomato harvest

Harvest time for the farms of Goiânia is different than harvesting or picking of tomatoes in backyard gardens. The first surprise is the tomato plants themselves. These are not the bushy plants with round, fat tomatoes that grow in backyard gardens. These plants are low to the ground with slightly oblong fruit of a medium size.

A tomato combine makes it way through the fields plucking tomatoes and passing them over to a sorting table staffed by five workers who throw off damaged tomatoes and rocks. Tomatoes shoot out of the combine into a large container truck keeping pace next to the combine.

Tomatoes to the plant – within two hours of being picked

Cargill moving the tomato crop quickly from field to plant by working with a trucking company to pick up and deliver the fruit. Some of the farms are 250 kilometers (135 miles) from the plant, but tomatoes arrive within a few hours of being picked. 

At the reception area of the plant, trucks line up with their red cargo. As the trucks pull into the receiving area for testing, a fat cylinder on a hydraulic motor – looking like a grain probe on steroids – plunges into tomatoes to collect samples. Multiple samples from each truck are analyzed for sugar content and acid level in the adjacent lab. 

“The river of tomatoes”

This is when "the river of tomatoes” begins. Each truck is designed with gates at the bottom side of the bins. Using recycled water evaporated from the tomatoes themselves, water cannons float the tomatoes out of the truck gates, over a grate that collects grass and dirt, and then into a stream that leads into the plant.

Every time a truck is unloaded a fresh tsunami of red fruit rushes down the waterway, ending in a pond with a conveyor belt that works like an escalator. As the tomatoes emerge from the pond and are transported upwards, they pass through sprays like a car wash.


Agronomy and safety in the tomato fields
Agronomy and safety in the tomato fields. Cargill.

Agronomist Helder Damaso is visiting a farm today — not only to check on the harvest but to begin discussions of next year’s production. Damasco is one of 10 agronomists who regularly travel to the contract farms and even provide safety training to the farm workers.

There are several workers in this field. One worker walks down a row with a wooden stick to straighten the plants in advance of the combine. He wears a long-sleeved shirt and a visor against the hot sun, and shin guards to protect against an unlikely snake bite. A tent is set up at the side of the field to provide shade for workers, and one individual’s only job is to deliver cold water to workers in the field. 

Employees even sign contracts that specifies rights and wages. “The cost of treating people right is quite minimal,” says Rogério Rangel, agricultural leader. “I’m proud to say that we are helping to change the mindset of growers in Goias. Farm workers have much better conditions these days.”


When the clean tomatoes enter the plant, they are elevated to sorting tables where seasonal employees hand-sort the tomatoes and remove any remaining vegetation. At this point, the tomatoes disappear from sight, entering the pipes and industrial equipment of the plant. After chopping, a flash of heat denatures enzymes that could break down sugars, and the tomatoes pass into a centrifuge where seeds and skin are collected for cattle feed.

Evaporating, storing

Tomatoes contain a huge amount of water—about 95 percent of the fruit. The tomato sauce evaporators bring the solids to 11 percent, while the tomato paste evaporators concentrate solids at 25 to 30 percent. Economical brands have more water than premium brands. A single can of fresh-pack tomato paste contains 16 tomatoes.

During harvest season, half of the 4,000 tons of tomatoes processed per day go into fresh-pack products. The rest is stored as concentrated tomato pulp so that the plant can continue to package product outside of harvest season.


And the processed tomatoes? They go into cans of Cargill’s premium Elefante® brand tomato sauce. The cans feature a cartoon elephant famous in Brazil. Elefante® is then trucked to stores and placed onto supermarket shelves, ready to delight shoppers.