Improving Growing Practices for Processing Tomatoes Using Rodale Roller Crimper

Final Report for FNE11-733

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2011: $9,290.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Northeast
State: New Jersey
Project Leader:
Theresa Viggiano
First Field LLC
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Project Information


This NE-SARE project sought to answer a complex of grower questions. Can we: 1. successfully grow local processing tomatoes on Coastal plain soils; 2. at competitive high yields while minimizing inputs; 3. while improving soil health using the roller crimper no-till practice; 4. mechanically harvest without fouling commercial machinery; and 5. potentially reduce late season splash disseminated diseases? The original plan was to work with organic methods but management problems persisted on the first farm so Jack Rabin of the Rutgers Experiment Station replicated the study but using conventional practices. No statistics nor conclusions can be drawn from a small dataset in one season. Even with establishing a strong rye cover crop, dense rolled mat, and Roundup burndown application after rolling, annual ivyleaf morningglory and redroot pigweed were not satisfactorily suppressed and required significant hand weeding support. The rolled cover prevents hoeing; therefore this work was conducted bending. While the roller crimper offers promise, it does not permit ‘rescue’ we suppression options.


Is this too much for farmers or process tomato customers to ask for? Sustainable or organic farming practices involve compromises. These cropping trade-offs are the tensions involving cash cropping vs. long fallow cover crop rotations to build soil health; damage to soils from organic tillage weeding vs. using herbicides; and successfully using mechanized commercial farm practices vs. scale-limited production methods (e.g., hand weeding labor) too inefficient to satisfy farm family livelihood and lifestyle demands. Similarly, whole field studies are hard to conduct while controlling variables introducing bias into our observations and results. This evaluation comparing bare ground process tomato production with roller crimper use was supported in part by USDA NE-SARE Grower Grant FNE11-733 to First Field ketchup company, Princeton, NJ owned by first generation farmers Terri Viggiano and Patrick Leger. Acknowledgement of involvement and support from: Growers and agribusiness; Patrick Leger & Terri Viggiano of First Field, Mike Brooks for harvest operations, Plant Food Co. donating liquid fertilizer, Frank Baitinger & Sons for pallet bins, Rutgers Food Innovation Center processing fruit USDA-NRCS NJ; Fred Kelly, Chris Miller for roller crimper and weeding help Rutgers Cooperative Extension Specialists; Tom Orton, Ph.D (Tomato Breeding), Andy Wyenandt, Ph.D. (Vegetable Pathology), Brad Majek (Weed Science) Rutgers Cooperative Extension County Agents; Michelle Infante-Casella, Meredith Melendez Rutgers NJAES farming staff; Supervisor Ed Castellari, June Sudal for irrigation and fertigation, Scott Hitchner, Jessie Smith for tractor operations.

Project Objectives:

The processing tomato market is fundamentally different from its fresh market tomato counterpart, necessitating a project tailored to its needs. The low prices for processing tomatoes, for example, makes mechanical harvesting a necessity. If the Rodale Crimper is to someday lower inputs and improve quality in processing tomato agriculture, it must first work within the context of mechanical harvesting.Given the substantial size of the processing tomato market relative to the fresh market tomato market, evaluating new growing methods using new tools and practices should be evaluated. With 331.9 thousand acres of processing tomatoes planted versus 110.2 thousand acres of fresh market tomato planted in the United States in 2009 (USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service), the incremental benefit of improving growing methods for processing tomatoes versus fresh market tomatoes is higher. Yet, projects focused on improving processing tomato practices have been limited.

We see this initiative as potentially having a significant impact on the reduction of environmental pollution, health risks and also as a means of producing more sustainably-grown processing tomatoes that could command higher market prices while also reducing cost of production for farmers.

Our objective is to evaluate the use of the Rodale Roller Crimper for processing tomato agriculture. While the use of the Rodale Crimper has been researched to improve growing methods for other types of produce and for fresh market tomatoes, its use for processing tomatoes remains largely unknown.

The primary research area for this grant is to determine whether the rye mulch created by the Crimper has sufficiently decayed by the end of the season to not hinder the operation of the harvester. The secondary research area is to provide a qualitative foliar and fruit disease evaluation on processing tomatoes grown using the Crimper versus those from a control acre grown using conventional methods.
We would use two acres at Katona Farms to carry out this field test. The first acre would be a test acre where we use the Crimper to mechanically-kill the rye cover crop and then transplant tomatoes within the natural rye mulch created by the Crimper. We would then compare mechanical harvesting outcomes with processing tomatoes grown on a control acre. Aside from the use of the Crimper to create this natural mulch on the test acre at the onset of the season, there would be no difference in methods and inputs used in both acres for the remainder of the season.

The first step is to assess the feasibility of using the Crimper within a mechanized harvesting environment. Since mechanical harvesting is essential to profitable processing tomato agriculture, assessing the potential benefits of using the Crimper must begin by evaluating its compatibility with mechanical harvesting techniques.

The secondary research area is to provide a qualitative foliar and fruit disease evaluation on processing tomatoes grown using the Crimper versus those from a control acre grown using conventional methods. Our project will partner with Katona Farms, one of the largest processing tomato farms in the Northeast. We will also have access to an existing Crimper owned by USDA-NRCS RC&D in Burlington County, NJ. The evaluation on crops grown in both the test and control acre will be done according to established rating methods from the Extension Service as well under the guidance of our Technical Advisor.

The control acre will be planted according to Katona Farms’ existing practices. A rye cover crop is grown in the off-season and then chemically killed and tilled. Tomato seedlings are transplanted without the use of mulch. The test acre will be located in a similar location as the control acre in regards to soil quality, orientation, slope, drainage characteristics, etc. An appropriate distance between the two acres will be maintained in order to prevent cross-contamination of any sort. The same variety of processing tomatoes will be used in both acres.


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  • Patrick Leger
  • Jack Rabin


Materials and methods:
Materials Methods and Equipment

With whole field variables in mind, Table 1 provides a list of all major field operations on both production fields with their dates. 2012 Tomato production took place at the Rutgers Agricultural Research and Extension Center 305-acre farm in fields designated for Sustainable Organic Alternatives Research (SOAR) training under support from the NE-SARE Professional Development Program (PDP). Fields had been transitioned to organic production in 2003, and received USDA NOP Organic Certification in 2006. As this was the final year of farming organically, there we no restrictions on input products used. Soils were gravelly sandy loam/Chillum silt loam testing 2 to 2.5% organic matter and CEC meq varying from 5 to 7. In mid-Sept. 2011, the field was disked, limed at 1.5 t/a per acre, and prepared with an Unferverth minimum-till field cultivator pulling double rolling harrow baskets for one-pass seedbed soil conditioning. Rye cover crop (Seedway Canada, min. 85% germination, 98% purity, no noxious weeds) was seeded on Sept. 22, 2011 at ~ 2.25 bu/a. with a Case IH 5300 grain drill. In 32 days a dense rye stand was established, outcompeting emerging winter annual weeds.

Rye was rolled on May 22 with an 8’ roller crimper from I&J Mfg., weighing 1,400 lb. Weight was added by filling the 16” cylinder with water, adding 75 lb per linear foot, for an operating weight of 2,000 lb. We rear 3-point hitched mounted the roller crimper and drove in reverse. We do not own a Laforge front 3-point hitch, and driving forward with the roller crimper rear-mounted would reduce crimping efficacy when tractor tires push rye down before contact with the crimper blades. Rolling was followed by a same-day burndown herbicide application of Roundup at 1 qt/a to speed cover crop termination and kill already emerged weeds. There are differing views on whether supporting burndown herbicide applications are needed with roller crimping cover crops, and whether the application should be made before or after rolling. Roller crimpers were designed to enable organic farmers to participate in no-till agriculture without support from herbicide applications. Our multiple previous years of experience was that roller crimping alone–in the absence of burndown herbicide support (either Roundup or OMRI approved herbicide)– has never maintained a sufficient critical weed free period for crops on our Coastal plain soils. Moreover, without burndown herbicide to speed cover crop termination, evapotranspiration continues for about 3 weeks and results in early stand establishment moisture competition. HeinzSeed variety H5108 transplants were grown in standard 338-cell 13x26 inch trays by a local process tomato grower. An early maturing high yielding variety with good color for multi-use peel/products, H5108 is recommended for regions in Canada, US Midwest, and Australia/New Zealand. Transplanting took on June 18 in roller crimped and bare ground fields using an RJ plug transplanter (RJ Equipment Ontario, CN). The planter was modified on a heavy single row toolbar frame 3-point hitch for no-till with an extra large front coulter blade to cut through residues and a double disk opener in front of the planter shoe. Occasional fouling of the opener occurred during transplanting tomato in roller crimper field, and further modifications would be needed for efficient use. 100 ppm 20-20-20 Peters Professional soluble fertilizer was added to transplant water. Drip irrigation lines, and filter system with fertigation injector were installed within 2 days, and tomatoes watered as needed during the season. Bulk liquid fertilizer, 1:2 ratio N:K 5-0-10, was donated by Plant Food Co. for this project. Three insect control applications were made. The first application was made after observing some defoliation from a light Colorado potato beetle (CPB) infestation. The other two applications could have been skipped, but were performed as part of routine maintenance sprays on neighboring tomato fields. Infestations were low and the rolled crimped cover crop may present a physical barrier reducing the ability of overwintering CPB adults from finding and colonizing host crops. There were many neighboring tomato and potato fields in the area, with high risk of aerial Late blight, based on Northeast US experiences since the Late Blight Pandemic of 2009. Not treating presented unacceptable risk to our fields as well as neighbors. Fungicide treatments, which also suppress common diseases (Alternaria Early blight or Anthracnose), began on June 26 with recommended practices. On Aug 3, we discontinued treating randomly assigned strips across both fields to observe later any differences in late season foliar or fruit diseases.

Research results and discussion:
Results and Discussion

Table 2 provides hand harvested yields from random 5-row feet sections in subplots. Table 4 further breaks down yield performance by subplots where later season fungicide applications were maintained or discontinued.

Mechanical harvesting on Oct 2 with a Pik-Rite harvester with an on-board electronic eye color assessed whether roller crimped rye residue would foul harvester operations or fruit sorting. The operation was successful. Rye straw residues did not bind the harvester cutting head, clog the vine shaker or trash separator, and did not leave significant residues on the sorter belt. Harvest occurred 106 days after transplanting, which is late for an early variety. The delay in maturity of the early H5108 variety was due in part to a mid-summer heat wave causing some split-set in the field. As the crop appeared healthy, and we wanted to observe whether rolled crimped cover affected late season splash disseminated foliar or fruit diseases, we let the field continue to mature to recover the highest yield. Mechanical harvest one week later increased maturity and resulted in a higher overall total red fruit yield of 32 t/a (8,830 lb from 6,000 ft2).

No statistics nor conclusions can be drawn from a small dataset in one season. It does make sense that Sept. 25 visual disease ratings would be similar across field areas receiving maintenance sprays from Aug 10 through Sept. 6. We have no way to trust whether our 7.2 rating vs. 6 on bare ground is due to random chance and benefit. Overall disease pressure on plants and fruit during the season was very low. These fields did not have tomato production for many years. The long rotation may have more impact on low overall disease pressure than the rolled rye cover crop physical barrier, or there may have been residual fungicide suppression from earlier treatments ending on Aug 3, which bias our ratings.


Even with establishing a strong rye cover crop, dense rolled mat, and Roundup burndown application after rolling, annual ivyleaf morningglory and redroot pigweed were not satisfactorily suppressed and required significant hand weeding support. The rolled cover prevents hoeing; therefore this work was conducted bending. We logged minutes to weed 200-foot rows, converted the times to hours per acre, and placed the results in Table 1. While the roller crimper offers promise, it does not permit ‘rescue’ we suppression options.

Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.