Hybrid and heirloom high-tunnel tomato variety trial

Final Report for ONE05-046

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2005: $9,880.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Region: Northeast
State: New York
Project Leader:
Judson Reid
Cornell Vegetable Program
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Project Information

Summary:

There has been rapid expansion of greenhouse tomato production in New York State over the last 5 years. Greenhouse tomatoes capitalize on local markets and available labor. However, heating a greenhouse in upstate New York requires high-energy input and can be cost prohibitive. An alternative to a fully heated greenhouse is the hoop house or high tunnel. Unlike greenhouses, these structures have no supplemental heat or automated ventilation. High tunnels can be moved, which offers an advantage for rotating into fresh soil for tomato culture, to avoid pest and disease build-up, as well as nutrient depletion.

This is the second year of NE SARE sponsored variety research in high tunnel tomatoes. Building on 2004’s results, we kept the top two producing varieties and introduced two new varieties based grower input. In a cooperating grower’s high tunnel in Penn Yan, NY 84 plants each of varieties Big Beef, Blitz, Boa, and Geronimo were transplanted on April 18 in a randomized complete block design with 4 replications. Plants were trained to a vertical trellis and single growing point.

A second trial was established to measure yield from five heirloom varieties. In a cooperating grower’s high tunnel in Livonia, NY 50 plants each of varieties Amish Paste, Carmello, Cherokee Purple, Dona and Prudens Purple were transplanted on April 20 in a randomized complete block design with 5 replications. Plants were trained to a vertical trellis and single growing point.

Harvest and data collection began on June 27, 2005 and ended October 31, 2005. Yield data was recorded for each harvest using a digital scale. Total weight per block in pounds was recorded as well as number of fruit. For each variety mean weight per plant, mean fruit per plant and mean weight per fruit was calculated. Disease resistance for Cladosporium Leaf Mold and Manganese deficiency were recorded in the Penn Yan high tunnel. Data were analyzed using Analysis of Variance (ANOVA), and treatment means were separated using Fishers Least Significant Difference.

In the Penn Yan high tunnel varieties Big Beef and Geronimo had significantly higher yields than Blitz and Boa as measured by mean tomato yield in pounds per plant. Geronimo yielded significantly higher number of mean fruit per plant than Blitz and Boa. Big Beef yielded a significantly heavier mean weight per fruit than the other three varieties. Varieties Big Beef and Boa were significantly more susceptible to Cladosporium Leaf Mold than Geronimo and Blitz. Blitz exhibited significantly greater Manganese deficiency than the other varieties. Data used from this trial could increase gross revenue per 2000 sq ft high tunnel by $4000 and eliminate fungicide applications.

In the Livonia high tunnel Prudens Purple yielded significantly higher in mean pounds per plant than Amish Paste, Carmello, Cherokee Purple and Dona. Carmello yielded significantly higher number of mean fruit per plant than other varieties. Prudens Purple yielded a significantly heavier mean weight per fruit than the other four varieties.

Introduction:

Hothouse tomato production has grown by over 1000% in the Finger Lakes region of New York over the last 3 years. Hothouse tomatoes are divided into fully heated and vented greenhouses and unheated hoop houses or high tunnels. High tunnel production is well suited to local farms for several reasons:

High tunnels use no electricity.

Soil management can be simplified.

Generally there are less insects and diseases in unheated hoops.

Hoops eliminate the most expensive input for local growers-heat.

With fewer inputs, the return to investment is greater, sooner. This technology is more sustainable as hoops use less non-renewable resources than heated greenhouses. Tomatoes are the most common tunnel crop.

Project Objectives:
  • To compare 4 hybrid and 5 heirloom tomato varieties in an 2 separate high tunnels by
    measuring yield in total weight, total number of fruit, and mean fruit weight.

    To observe disease and insect pest trends in the high tunnel, and manage them in a
    sustainable manner.

    To evaluate the practicality of soluble organic fertilizers in an injection system.

    To share our information with other growers in the region.

Research

Materials and methods:

On April 18, 2005 84 plants at first flower stage each of 4 tomato varieties were transplanted at an in-row spacing of 16” with 42” between rows in a randomized complete block design with 4 replications at the Penn Yan site. Black plastic mulch and drip tape were laid prior to transplanting. Varieties Big Beef, Blitz, Boa and Geronimo were trained to a single leader and vertically trellised. Soil and tissue analysis was performed by the Cornell University Department of Horticulture Nutrient and Elemental Analysis Lab. The crop was fertilized through a 1:100 injector via irrigation drip tape periodically with 20-20-20, 9-15-30, Magnesium Sulfate and Manganese chelate.

On April 21, 2005 50 plants at 6 true leaf stage of 5 heirloom tomato varieties were transplanted in a double staggered in-row spacing of 24” with 36” between beds. Varieties were randomized in a complete block design with 5 replications. Black weed barrier and drip tape were laid prior to transplanting. Varieties Amish Paste, Carmello,
Cherokee Purple, Dona and Prudens Purple were trained to a single leader and vertically trellised. Soil and tissue analysis was performed by the Cornell University Department of Horticulture Nutrient and Elemental Analysis Lab. The crop was fertilized through a 1:100 injector via irrigation drip tape periodically with Neptune’s Harvest, a commercial, organic fertilizer with an analysis of 4-1-1.

Fertilization/Pests and Disease Management. The Penn Yan tunnel was managed using Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and conventional, soluble fertilizer. The Livonia tunnel was certified organic and fertilized with OMRI approved materials. Fertilization at both sites was based on soil and foliar testing. IPM techniques used at the Penn Yan site included straw mulch to reduce conditions favorable to Two Spotted Spider Mite (Tetranychus urticae) (TSSM) and the
release of natural predator of TSSM, Phytoseulis persimilis. No pest management techniques were required at the Livonia site. Cladosporium Leaf Mold occurred naturally in the Penn Yan site. Pathogen was confirmed in Plant Pathology Dillard Lab at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station. Plants were left untreated to measure variety resistance.

Research results and discussion:

Harvest and data collection began on June 27 and ended October 31. Yield data was recorded for each harvest using a digital scale. Total weight per block in pounds was recorded as well as number of fruit. For each variety in the trial mean weight per plant, mean fruit per plant and mean weight per fruit was calculated. At the Penn Yan site percent foliage infested with Cladosporium fulvum was calculated on September 9, 27 and October 19. Data were analyzed using Analysis of Variance (ANOVA), and treatment means were separated using Fishers Least Significant Difference.

In the Penn Yan high tunnel varieties Big Beef and Geronimo had significantly higher yields than Blitz and Boa as measured by mean tomato yield in pounds per plant. Geronimo yielded significantly higher number of mean fruit per plant than Blitz and Boa. Big Beef yielded a significantly heavier mean weight per fruit than the other three varieties. Varieties Big Beef and Boa were significantly more susceptible to Cladosporium Leaf Mold than Geronimo and Blitz. Blitz exhibited significantly greater Manganese deficiency than the other varieties.

In the Livonia high tunnel Prudens Purple yielded significantly higher in mean pounds per plant than Amish Paste, Carmello, Cherokee Purple and Dona. Carmello yielded significantly higher number of mean fruit per plant than other varieties. Prudens Purple yielded a significantly heavier mean weight per fruit than the other four varieties.

Research conclusions:

In our second year of hybrid variety work, the variety Geronimo became the farmer’s preferred variety, supported by statistics from this project. A mean yield per plant that was ranked in the highest group as well as visual fruit grade leads us to this conclusion. Geronimo’s resistance to disease could eliminate the need for fungicide applications, increasing return per tunnel, by decreasing labor and chemical inputs.

At our heirloom trial we concluded that Prudens Purple, Cherokee Purple and Amish Paste were commercially viable in New York high tunnels based on a combination of yield data and qualitative observations such as appearance, taste, and storage. We also concluded that soluble, organic fertilizer can be successfully used in an injection system.

Participation Summary

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:

Over 50 growers attended a summer twilight meeting at the Penn Yan trial site where mid-season data was shared from both hybrid and heirloom varieties. Judson Reid made a presentation on the project at the National Agriculture Agents conference on July19 in Buffalo, NY and the Ag In-service in Ithaca, NY on November 4. Reid presented the project findings to 40 growers at the Western New York Fresh Market Vegetable meeting December 14 in Lockport; and will present at the Finger Lakes Produce Auction annual growers meeting on January 9 and the New Jersey Vegetable Growers annual meeting in Atlantic City on January 11. Cooperating farmer Fred Forsburg is scheduled to make a Power Point presentation about the project on February 16 at the Empire State Fruit and Vegetable Exposition. A group 30 of Indian agricultural professionals observed the project at the Penn Yan site in May. Other visitors included 15 Humphry Fellows, representing countries such as China, Madagascar and Nigeria as well as a class of graduate students studying farmer-centered extension at Cornell University (both in October). Our results will be posted on the Cornell Vegetable Program’s webpage
and reach 400 grower’s in the monthly Vedge Edge publication. A report on disease ratings from the trial has been submitted for publication to the American Phytopathological Society’s Biological and Cultural Tests Journal.

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Data used from the hybrid trial could increase gross revenue per 2000 sq ft high tunnel by $4000 (over lowest yielding variety Boa) and eliminate fungicide applications with the variety Geronimo. Geronimo has a higher seed cost (0.50), which is off set by the elimination of fungicide application.

In the heirloom trial Prudens Purple could gross $32/plant in a retail market approach. This could generate 12800 per 2000 sq ft tunnel. This represents an increase of $3680 over the lowest yielding variety, Dona.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

Further research is needed to make economic comparisons between greenhouses and high tunnels including prices received during various market windows at produce auctions. Additional crops should be evaluated for their role as rotation crops for high tunnels. Variety work on heirloom tomatoes in Northeast high tunnels requires continued attention.

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.