Rediscovering the Rutgers tomato

Final Report for ONE15-243

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2015: $14,900.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Northeast
State: New Jersey
Project Leader:
Peter Nitzsche
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Morris County
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Project Information

Summary:

Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) partnered with farmers and home gardeners in an effort to release a new value added tomato variety for local transplant and fruit production.  In the summer of 2015, two replicated field research trials, two on farm field trials, three Master Gardener trials and six consumer taste panels were conducted to gather input in making a final variety selection.  The data from the trials and panels were compiled and the best performing tomato selection was chosen and named ‘Rutgers 250’ to commemorate the 250th Anniversary of Rutgers University.  The seed of the ‘Rutgers 250’ tomato was produced during the summer of 2015 and sold to 40 transplant farmers through an agreement with a commercial seed company (Rohrer Seeds) in early 2016.  Over 2,100 packets of ‘Rutgers 250’ tomato seeds were also sold by Rutgers NJAES to home gardeners.  Point of purchase materials were developed for sales of transplants to consumers.  The project attracted a lot of press activity and publicity.  The seed of ‘Rutgers 250’ sold out very quickly and farmers have indicated demand for transplants.  It is anticipated that sales of ‘Rutgers 250’ tomato fruit by local farmers will also be bolstered by the media coverage.

Introduction:

To ensure continued profitability for northeastern US growers, it is crucial to develop new value-added vegetable varieties in the region. In this vein, the Rutgers (NJAES) project “Rediscovering the New Jersey Tomato” successfully re-released several flavorful tomato varieties which had been eliminated from the marketplace (http://njfarmfresh.rutgers.edu/jerseytomato.html)

“What’s in Season from the Garden State-Rediscovering the Jersey Tomato”). The program generated positive publicity for NJ tomato farmers and helped increase sales of local fruit to consumers and transplants to gardeners.  To capitalize on this momentum, the cross used to create the once popular and widely planted ‘Rutgers’ tomato was recreated in an effort to breed an updated and more flavorful tomato variety.  After several years of selection and refinement of this cross, the Rutgers NJAES research team had three advanced selections to use for the final evaluation.  Since the “new” ‘Rutgers’ was targeted for both commercial growers and home gardeners, partnering with local farmers and Rutgers Master Gardeners helped the team make the final selection of tomato to release as a commercial variety.  The partnership allowed farmers (Gary Donaldson of Donaldson Farms and George DiGregorio of Twin Pond Farm) and Rutgers Master Gardeners to get firsthand experience growing the tomato selections and allow for valuable data to be collected on their performance. The result of the partnerships culminated with the naming and release of a new flavorful tomato variety called ‘Rutgers 250’.

Project Objectives:

1. Partner with local farmers and gardeners to evaluate advanced tomato selections to determine the best material for varietal release and commercialization for local fruit and transplant production.

2. Generate tomato plant horticultural characteristics, yield, fruit quality and consumer preference data from on farm trials, field research trials and Master Gardener home garden trials.

3. Produce seed of the tomato selections to be commercialized by collecting fruit from the research trials.

4. Educate farmers, gardeners, consumers on the project and generate positive publicity to create a market for the tomato seed, transplants, and fruit of the variety(s) to be released.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • George DiGregorio
  • Gary Donaldson
  • Joseph Maugeri
  • Dr. Thomas Orton

Research

Materials and methods:

Field Trials

Three sets of trials were held concurrently in the first few months of the project. Trials with farmers, Rutgers Master Gardeners, and replicated field research trials were all conducted concurrently as outlined below.

Three tomato grower cooperators from throughout New Jersey were identified to participate in on-farm field trials. Unfortunately, due to a miscommunication, one of the cooperators never planted seed for their trial.  The other two farmers planted the three tomato selections along with three standard varieties on their farm.  The farmers were able to observe the tomato selections growing within their production systems and provided feedback on performance (Figure 1. Farmer trial).

Figure 1 Farmer Gary Donaldson examines tomato trial fruit

Three Rutgers Master Gardener County programs (Middlesex, Monmouth, and Morris) were identified to participate in garden demonstration trials. The Master Gardeners planted the tomato selections and observed their performance in a garden setting compared to three standard varieties. The plantings also served as demonstration plots for home gardeners to view and be educated on the performance of candidate selections (Figure 2. Master Gardener trial ).

Figure 2 Master Gardener tomato trial Middlesex County

Replicated field research trials were conducted at two University research farms: Rutgers Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Bridgeton, NJ (RAREC) and Snyder Research and Extension Farm, Pittstown, NJ (Snyder) (Figure 3. Replicated trial). The three tomato selections were planted along with three standard varieties.  Yield and fruit quality data were collected from the trials and farmers viewed the plants and tasted fruit from the plots at educational twilight meetings.

Timeline: March 1 – April 15, 2015

Task: Identify growers, Master Gardener organizations, employees that will participate in the project.

Timeline: March 1 – March 31, 2015

Task: Purchase field supplies including stakes, twine, fertilizers, plastic mulch, and drip tape.

Project leaders utilized much of the supplies which were already onsite at the research farms and replenished those materials later in the season.

Timeline: April 10-20, 2015

Task: Sow seed of trial tomatoes. Plants were grown in University greenhouses for the replicated research trials and Master Gardener trials.

Timeline: May 15-31, 2015

Task: Establish Grower and Master Gardener Cooperator trial.  Seeds were distributed to the three identified farmer cooperators.  Unfortunately due to a miscommunication one grower did not plant their seed.  The other two growers planted their seed and established their on farm trials. 

Timeline: June 1 – July 31, 2015

Task: Monitor progress of plants in trials.  All trials were monitored throughout the growing season by faculty, staff, students, farmer cooperators, and Rutgers Master Gardeners.

 

Sensory Evaluation

A sensory survey tool was developed in cooperation with a faculty member of the Rutgers University Food Science Department. This tool was used in conducting blinded taste panels of the selections comparing them to standard varieties.  Consumer taste criteria was based on “flavor”, “texture”, and “overall preference” on a metric 1-5 scale.

Timeline: August 1 – August 15, 2015

Task: Train consumer taste/preference panels and conduct blinded taste panels at farmer twilight meetings at RAREC and Snyder, Margate Farmer’s Market, Great Tomato Tasting Event at Snyder, Rutgers Master Gardener, Rutgers Cooperative Extension Earth Center Open House. Completed data spreadsheets from all locations were merged and composite scores that integrate field and fruit quality performance and consumer sensory criteria were developed and implemented.

 

Data Collection

Data from the replicated field research trials, on farm field trials, Master Gardener trials and taste panels was analyzed to decide the top candidate to be released as a variety in 2016 and named ‘Rutgers 250’. During this phase the project team oversaw variety trial harvests, performance evaluations, data collections, and consumer taste/preference panels:

Timeline: August 15 – September 15, 2015

Task: Project team developed and implemented uniform data collection protocols and supervised harvest.

 

Outreach

Growers were apprised of the project through on-site twilight meetings at Snyder, RAREC, Rutgers Fruit and Ornamental Research Extension Center. Gardeners were able to view the project at the Rutgers Master Gardener demonstration sites in Middlesex, Monmouth and Morris counties.  Gardeners and growers were also apprised of the results of the project through many reports that appeared in media outlets (newspapers, radio, television) in the northeastern U.S. during the summer and fall of 2015.  Outreach efforts occurred in conjunction with data collection efforts.

Timeline: August 15 – September 15, 2015

Task:   Grower twilight educational meetings and demonstrations were conducted at RAREC, Snyder farm and Rutgers Fruit and Ornamental Research Extension Center.

Timeline: October 1 – December 31, 2015

Task: Analyze results and select the breeding line(s) to be released as the “new ‘Rutgers’ in 2016. The data was compiled and the results discussed at a meeting of faculty and staff participating in the project in November.  The tomato selection with the highest overall composite ratings was chosen and given the name ‘Rutgers 250’

 

Seed Production

Seeds of the three advanced tomato breeding lines for commercialization were produced by collecting fruit from the trials. Seed was packaged and sold gardeners and commercial growers for the 2016 production season.

Timeline: September 1 – September 20, 2015

Task: Collect seeds from advanced selections for distribution in 2016. This resulted in 4.35 lbs. of seed generated from the advanced selections for potential distribution.

Research results and discussion:

Most of the plants in the field trials performed well however one of the standard varieties, an strain of the original 'Rutgers' tomato exhibited and abnormal growth and poor yields.  It was not clear what caused this poor growth which made it much less useful for performance and taste comparisons.   Data from the field trials (Tables 1-4.),  and consumer taste panels (Table 5.) were compiled and utilized in the selection of a new tomato variety.   The test variety that was chosen was called "TRW4002" and was a tie with "TRW4001".  "TRW4004" was good but had a much smaller fruit size.  The winning variety was named ‘Rutgers 250’ to commemorate the 250th Anniversary of Rutgers University (Figure 4. 'Rutgers 250' fruit')  The seed of the ‘Rutgers 250’ tomato was produced during the trials and sold to 40 transplant farmers through an agreement with a commercial seed company (Rohrer Seeds) in early 2016.  Over 2,100 packets of ‘Rutgers 250’ tomato seeds were also sold by Rutgers NJAES to home gardeners (Figure 5. seed packet).  Point of purchase materials were developed for sales of transplants to consumers.  Three hundred and seventy six growers were educated on the project and through twilight meeting and winter presentations.  Over 1,800 gardeners and consumers were educated on the project and the development of the new variety through public events.  The project attracted media attention and resulted in the seed of ‘Rutgers 250’ selling out very quickly and farmers have indicated rapid sales of transplants.  It is anticipated that sales of ‘Rutgers 250’ tomato fruit by local farmers will also be bolstered by the media coverage.

Tables 1-5 Horticultural and taste panel data

Figure 4 'Rutgers 250' fruit

Figure 5 'Rutgers 250' seed packet

 

Research conclusions:

The project resulted in the release of a new tomato variety for local gardeners which created multiple economic opportunities for local businesses.  A local seed company benefitted from sales of a new tomato variety and exposure to new potential new customers through these sales.  Local farmers are benefitting from transplant and fruit sales of a new variety and the media attention has helped drive customers to their markets.  Growers may also benefit from sales of other produce and farm products to customers attracted to their markets by the ‘Rutgers 250’ tomato.

Media attention on the project has helped make gardeners and consumers made more aware of local farm production, Rutgers NJAES research, the SARE grant program and partnerships developed through the program.

Three University students who worked on the project have expressed continued interest in agriculture and the possibility of pursuing graduate work in the field.

Participation Summary
2 Farmers participating in research

Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

The Office of Communication within Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences handled the majority of the publicity for the project. A video clip discussing the tomato tasting project was added to Rutgers YouTube page (https://youtu.be/SNvKgjUDj04).   The Rutgers website (http://breeding.rutgers.edu/tomatoes/), added new content highlighting the 'Rutgers 250' tomato.  Rutgers Today, the campus magazine, did a story on the project which generated a lot of interest and publicity in the press (http://news.rutgers.edu/feature/rutgers-tomato-reinvented-even-more-flavor/20150802#.VcCzOE-h35p).

The media attention generated by the project included coverage by local/state, national, and international news outlets. A listing of the coverage is provided below.

Local/State Coverage

  • Daily Record: http://www.dailyrecord.com/story/news/local/new-jersey/2015/08/13/rutgers-narrows-search-reinvent-jersey-tomato/31614575/
  • NJTV News: http://www.njtvonline.org/news/video/rutgers-brings-back-the-jersey-tomato/
  • Jersey Bites website : http://www.jerseybites.com/2015/08/the-great-tomato-tasting/
  • Press of Atlantic City: http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/business/rutgers-reviving-historic-jersey-tomato-seed/article_a6b2841e-4870-11e5-b52d-8731015e1baa.html
  • NJ.com tomato naming poll: http://www.nj.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2015/08/rutgers_tomato_naming.html
  • NJ Spotlight: http://www.njspotlight.com/stories/15/09/16/rutgers-plant-breeders-fighting-hunger-and-disease-bringing-back-beloved-jersey-tomato/
  • My Central Jersey: http://www.mycentraljersey.com/story/news/local/2015/08/04/rutgers-narrows-search-reinvent-jersey-tomato/31054071/

National Coverage

  • Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/home/the-perfect-tomato-is-just-around-the-corner/2015/09/15/70909c22-57d4-11e5-b8c9-944725fcd3b9_story.html?wprss=rss_lifestyle
  • New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/09/nyregion/new-jersey-tomato-victim-of-modern-farming-vies-for-a-comeback.html?_r=0
  • PHYS.org: http://phys.org/news/2015-08-rutgers-tomato-reinvented-flavor.html
  • Growing Produce: http://www.growingproduce.com/vegetables/tomatoes/rutgers-researchers-focus-on-flavor-of-new-tomato/?utm_source=knowledgemarketing&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=avgenews%2008132015&omhide=true&eid=225307300&bid=1149599

International Coverage

  • The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/sep/20/inside-the-quest-to-resurrect-americas-best-tasting-jersey-tomato?CMP=share_btn_link

Three grower twilight meetings were held to educate growers on the project and the development of the new tomato variety:

August 20, 2015

Rutgers Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Bridgeton, NJ (35 attendees)

 

September 15, 2015

Rutgers Snyder Research and Extension Farm, Pittstown, NJ (84 attendees)

 

October 8, 2015

Rutgers Fruit and Ornamental Research Extension Center, Cream Ridge, NJ (22 attendees)

 

Presentations at winter meetings

“Rediscovering the 'Rutgers' Tomato”

Mid-Atlantic Vegetable Workers Conference in Newark, DE, November 5, 2015. (12 attendees)

 

“Launching the Rutgers 250 Tomato in New Jersey”

New Jersey Agricultural Convention, Atlantic City, NJ February 10, 2016 (90 attendees)

 

“New Vegetable and Small Cultivars from Rutgers NJAES”

North Jersey Commercial Vegetable Growers meeting, Flemington, NJ, February 17, 2015 (45 farmers).

 

“Launching the ‘Rutgers 250’ Tomato

Central Jersey Vegetable Meeting, Freehold, NJ, February 29, 2016 (100 attendees)

 

“Highlighting Work at Rutgers to Rediscover Flavor in Strawberries and Tomatoes”

Rutgers Home Gardeners School, New Brunswick, NJ March 19, 2016 (200 attendees).

 

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

An economic analysis of the impact of the project was not designed into the scope of the original proposal. The economic benefit of releasing a new tomato variety could not be measured until after the time frame of the grant was complete.

Farmer Adoption

Forty commercial farmers purchased ‘Rutgers 250’ tomato seed from Rohrer Seeds for transplant and fruit production. Twenty seven farm stands and/or retail outlets and eleven non-profit groups affiliated with Rutgers University have indicated they would be selling ‘Rutgers 250’ tomato transplants to gardeners in 2016.  (http://njfarmfresh.rutgers.edu/jerseytomato.html).  It is anticipated that several local farmers will also be producing and selling ‘Rutgers 250’ tomato fruit.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Areas needing additional study

The ‘Rutgers 250’ tomato was developed utilizing older varieties with a focus on the market for home garden transplant sales.  Unfortunately, older tomato varieties lack some of the genetic resistance for disease and other traits needed by farmers for commercial production.  Dr. Thomas Orton has begun crossing ‘Rutgers 250’ with newer commercial tomato varieties and breeding lines with the intent of creating a new flavorful variety with traits more suitable for local farm production.  More study is needed to determine if these selections will perform as well or better than current commercial tomato varieties.

 

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.