Final Report for FNE04-519
Karen M. Hyde
Rt. 3 Box 169
Philippi, WV 26416
The goal of the project was to establish a market for the WV'63 tomato seed. The research relating to the goal was to explore the most efficient method of producing tomatoes from which the seed would be harvested. One hundred plants were divided into two groups. Group A, of 50 plants, were allowed to set four clusters of tomatoes. Group B, of 50 plants, were pruned by topping out the plant stem just past the second cluster. The seed from the respective groups were compared for the seed size, viability and number. The comparison was completed by weight.
The present farm operation of 600 acres and of 100 brood cows plus 12,000 square feet of greenhouse growing area is more than busy. The project pursued fit quite well into this operation. During the tomato growing season most of the greenhouse space is not being used. The facility and resources could be dedicated to the tomato project. At this point in the farm activities there is time to carry out the tomato project.
The technical advisor for this project was John F. Hyde. His credentials in tomato growing are extensive as he was the grower for a 10 acre greenhouse project focusing strictly on tomatoes. His 35 years of growing experience and accumulated knowledge were vital in the success of this project. Ken Swimkosky, A Ball Seed Company representative, showed much interest in the project and gave suggestions for the next growing season. Robert Conrad, a Ball Seed Company seed collector, verified my seed collecting method was appropriate. Tom McConnell, West Virginia University Extension Farm Management Specialist, and Ronnie Hellmandollar, Randolph County Extension Agent, showed much interest in the project and inquired often to the status of the project.
One hundred WV '63 tomato plants were planted in 2.5 gallon containers and kept within the greenhouse. A professional growing medium was used. The plants were trellised, pruned, fertilized appropriately, and hand pollinated. Of the one hundred plants, Group A of fifty plants was allowed to grow until the fourth cluster of tomatoes was set. Group B of fifty plants was topped out after the second cluster was set.
The tomatoes were picked and the seed harvested in the traditional manner. Seed and the jelly like substance were placed in containers along with water and allowed to ferment for two or three days. When the fermenting time was complete, the seed was separated from the mixture and rinsed well. Drying of the seed was accomplished by putting the separated seed on styrofoam plates and exposing the seed to air and heat in the greenhouse. The collected seed was then stored in plastic storage bags.
Brochures were designed and printed to disseminate the availability of the WV '63 tomato seed. A total often seed companies were sent information as well as the West Virginia University Horticulture Extension Specialist. Private growers in the area received information and availability as well. Brochures will again be sent to the ten seed companies in early 2005 in preparation of the 2006 catalog.
The results of the project were interesting and were within the expected outcome. Group A plants, those not topped out, produced 7.5 oz of seed, but did not perform as well in the germination test. Group B plants, those topped out, produced 5.795 oz of seed and demonstrated a 100% germination rate. The seed from the Group B plants were plumper and more viable.
In marketing the seed, there have been encouraging prospects. Burpee Seed Company has called and asked for more samples of seed. At this time I have not heard from them again. Information released on the WVU Horticulture Website has resulted in seed purchase as well as "word of mouth".
The site conditions for the WV'63 tomato seed project were perfect. I do not think that any improvements need to be made in order to add this niche to our farm plan. One consideration for future tomato seed collection is to have the seed collected and tomatoes removed by the time the poinsettia crop arrives. The early clean up is done to prevent and infestation of an insect called white fly. White fly thrive on both tomatoes and poinsettias.
The project monies allotted through the grant were beneficial and did generate income for the farm. To have pursued this project without the grant would not have been cost effective. The growing of the tomatoes is easy but the seed collection is quite time consuming and the competitive price of seed does not allow for much profit. Should a large seed company contract with me for the WV '63 seed, we could add to the farm income. There is another marketing plan which is discussed in the Adoption section.
I do plan to continue with the project. Two new ideas have been generated as a result of this undertaking. Should I get contracts from seed companies and not be able to provide the needed seed, I could contract with local growers to begin to participate in the seed project with me. Guidance would be given and the stipulation that no other tomato varieties be grown at the same location.
Another idea is to package small amounts of seed and sell the seed in local feed stores and markets. With informative and attractive packaging, I believe this might be the route to try. It has been suggested that major seed companies spend enormous amounts of money developing new plants. Due to their investment, seed companies may be unwilling to buy from an individual. The marketing on a more a more personal scale may be the solution.
I do plan to continue the project of harvesting the WV '63 tomato seed. It adds another facet to our operation and is utilizing facilities that are in place. The research supports the premise that a two cluster plant produces a superior seed. Allowing time for only two clusters makes a shorter term project and provides a more desirable environment for the incoming poinsettia crop.
Refusing to be discouraged by only one contact from a seed company, I have sent my brochure again to each of the chosen companies. Hopefully, one of the companies will take advantage of my offering. Should there be no contracts for seed, I plan to explore marketing the seed through local feed stores and markets. Appropriate, attractive packaging with growing information about the tomato could lead to an alternative marketing strategy.
The outreach portion of my project has been disappointing. I've yet to be published. The enclosed article has been submitted to the following publications:
People Places Plants, Mid-Atlantic Edition
West Virginia Market Bulletin
A display board showing techniques of seed saving is under construction. The research was incomplete for the 2004 fair season. The board will be on display for the 2005 fair season at the Taylor County Fair, Barbour County Fair, and the Preston County Buckwheat Festival. Considering the volume of people passing through these fairs and the interests of fair goers, I would anticipate reaching many people.
The enclosed card/brochure was sent to the chosen seed companies. I used it as well when seed was shipped.
The two-fold purpose of this project was to establish a market for the WV'63 tomato seed and to research the most efficient method of growing tomatoes from which to harvest the seed. In regard to marketing the seed, I plan to continue to make seed companies aware of the availability of the WV'63 tomato seed and to offer the product to more companies. A more individualized marketing strategy is being considered as I offer the seed to local feed stores and markets. On the efficient growing technique, I plan to limit the cluster set to two clusters. The seed collected from the restricted set of plants was larger and plumper and has a better germination rate. I regard the project a success because I have made unexpected contacts for selling seed and have established the most efficient method of growing tomatoes for seed harvest. The project has added another facet to the farm income and increases the farm's sustainability.
Karen M. Hyde
April 23, 2005