Hundreds of thousands of tomatoes left to rot in field

COLUMBIA, IL (KTVI) – The heat wave raised a bit of stink near Columbia, Illinois, Tuesday night.

Turn the corner onto Ramsey Road just across from Riverside Golf Course in the shadow the JB Bridge and the odor was like hitting a wall.

There were likely hundreds of thousands of pounds of tomatoes rotting in an 18-20 acre field.

St. Louis’s love affair with tomatoes is still in prime season.

But it may seem a lot less appetizing if you happen by that field.

“It smelled just like swamp,” said Michelle Forthaus who walked by the field with her daughter on their 3-5 mile fitness walk.

“Once we turned the corner (the smell) definitely took us over,” she said.

Beyond fly-ridden piles of rotten tomatoes are acre after acre of tomatoes rotting on the vines.

Mel Stuckmeyer farms the field.  His family’s produce stand has been a landmark for generations.  Their tomatoes are among those now stocking your favorite grocery stores.

“If you grow in high volume and they all come at one time with full moon, there’s no way you can control them.  You either have too many or you don’t have enough,” he said.  “It’s a perishable item.  That’s why vegetable growing is kind of tricky.  It’s supply and demand.”

And weather.

The scorching heat is ravaging the tomatoes and trapping the odor.

It’d been such a bumper crop that demand faded a couple of weeks ago, he said.

Then the heat wave hit, scorching the tomatoes faster than workers could pick them, he said.

A field this size can yield well beyond 700,000  lbs. of tomatoes.

“If I lived in this vicinity I would not be happy because constant smelling that,” Forthaus said.

“A lot of people use this loop, cycling or running-walking,” her daughter, Cori, Said.

“It would definitely be something that would be nice if it was cleaned up,” said Michelle Forthaus.

“We’ll put the mower in them, mow them down, get the fields cleaned up, get the plastic picked up…I don’t think the odor is that bad.  It’s better than cabbage, put it that way,” Stuckmeyer laughed.

He said the odor should be gone within a week or two.  The heat had kept workers from being able to clear the field sooner, he said.

State officials said there was no law on the books that would apply to this.