Conducting a Variety Trial to Find the Best Marketable Organic Tomato Product

Project Overview

FNC04-524
Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2004: $5,910.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $20,710.00
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:

Commodities

  • Vegetables: tomatoes

Practices

  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, marketing management
  • Production Systems: general crop production

    Summary:

    To set up a randomized-block-design variety trial with high tunnel and outside production to determine production methods and tomato varieties that produce the best quality organic tomatoes that are of medium size, with skins that are not too thick or too thin, and production of 25 pounds of tomatoes per plant.

    PROJECT BACKGROUND
    Ocean Farm is 154 acres owned and operated by Louis Reuschel. It was certified organic in 2001 and 2002. The land is farmed with inter-planted cover crops in a four-year rotation of small grains, legumes, corn, and soybeans using a 16 row strip-cropping system. The farm features a large pond and adjacent shady picnic area. R Pizza Farm was added in 2004 as an educational component. The “pizza” is a circle about 200 feet in diameter. The sections contain different foods that go into pizza, such as wheat, tomatoes, peppers, onions, herbs, chickens, goats, calves, and pigs. A walk way around the pizza farm allows visitors to touch, taste, and smell the different ingredients.

    PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND RESULTS
    1. Project Goals
    A)Determine which tomato varieties produce better under organic conditions.
    B)Determine the advantages of growing inside or outside of a tunnel hoop house.
    C)Survey customers to determine their favorite tomatoes.

    We started the tomatoes in the greenhouse in March. Some of them were transferred outside, the rest were kept inside the greenhouse. Those that were set out went into an area that had been prepared with plastic, mulch, and a watering system. A few were set in a traditional garden setting and required hand cultivation. We used 6 varieties: Italian, Orange Oxheart, Celebrity Goliath, Pink Oxheart, Better Boy, and Abe Lincoln. Five of the varieties were planted in three different locations. Due to health limitations, Isabel and I were unable to do all of the work ourselves. Bad storms hit in May and blew our hoop house down.

    We contracted with Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Brenneman because they had a hoop house and would be able to complete the project for us. All summer long, the Brennemans harvested the tomatoes and sold them to our customers. The customer evaluations are listed below. Due to the drought, the harvest was down 50 percent, so we were unable to supply additional customers this year. We did learn that the market is there — several additional customers could have been added if we had more tomatoes. No pesticides were used at any time on these plants. Only a small amount of organic fish fertilizer was used.

    From this project we found that there are several markets, however, we were disappointed in the quantity of good quality tomatoes. At this time, we will not be continuing the tomato business, due to the fact it was not profitable enough to justify the labor. However, if it had been a good growing year, it would have been profitable. Many of the tomatoes were usable, but not of high enough quality to sell as fresh whole tomatoes. If they could be processed into juice, sauce, or salsa, they could have been sold. Our customers liked our tomatoes and would have bought more if we had them. However, we could not supply all they used.

    PEOPLE
    Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Brenneman provided much of the labor for this project. My wife, Isabel kept the books and provided secretarial services.

    RESULTS
    Outside: Gophers and worms were more of a problem on outside plants. Drought conditions this summer reduced production by 50 percent. The outside tomatoes in the traditional garden setting yielded better than the ones with plastic. We used organic fish fertilizer on outside tomatoes.

    Inside: We had a longer season, had tomatoes for a month longer. It took 75 percent less labor on the indoor tomatoes. Did not require watering as often, less weeds, less bugs. Overall, the inside tomatoes yielded better because they had more high quality fruit. They also had a longer season.

    CUSTOMER RESPONSES

    SuzyQ’s:
    TOMATO VARIETY/ RESPONSE
    Italian/Best taste, but not best to use
    Orange Oxheart/ Good taste, but not best to use
    Celebrity Goliath/ Good taste, good for their use
    Pink Oxheart/ Good taste, but not best to use
    Better Boy/ Good taste, good for their use
    Abe Lincoln/ No response

    Glo’s:
    TOMATO VARIETY/ RESPONSE
    Italian/ Best taste
    Orange Oxheart/ No response
    Celebrity Goliath/ No response
    Pink Oxheart/ Very good for slicing, better taste
    Better Boy/ Best overall, good for dicing, good taste
    Abe Lincoln/ No response

    Brennemans:
    TOMATO VARIETY/RESPONSE
    Italian/ Best yield
    Orange Oxheart/ No response
    Celebrity Goliath/ Best to market, nice and firm
    Pink Oxheart/ Sweet meat, best flavor
    Better Boy/ No response
    Abe Lincoln/ Good overall

    Reuschels:
    TOMATO VARIETY/ RESPONSE
    Italian/Good flavor
    Orange Oxheart/Best flavor
    Celebrity Goliath/Good flavor, more juicy
    Pink Oxheart/Good taste, good for canning
    Better Boy/ No response
    Abe Lincoln/ No response

    DISCUSSION
    I learned that different customers prefer different varieties for their uses. There is no single variety that can meet all customers’ needs. This was a bad year due to the drought. If I had the business established and had a few good yielding years, I might be able to handle a bad year. But to have a bad year starting off, I couldn’t make enough to justify continuing. I also learned that there is a lot of interest in locally grown organic tomatoes. If I were able to grow more tomatoes, I would have been able to sell them all. Although I live in a small rural town, people there appreciate high quality food.

    OUTREACH
    We added an R Pizza Farm to educate children and others about agriculture. During 2005, tour guide “Klutzy the Clown” led over 100 visitors through the farm. The tomatoes were an important part of these tours. The “pizza” is a circle about 200 feet in diameter. The sections contain different foods that go into pizza, such as wheat, tomatoes, peppers, onions, herbs, chickens, goats, calves, and pigs. A walkway around the pizza farm allows visitors to touch, taste and smell the different ingredients.

    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.