- Vegetables: tomatoes
- Crop Production: cover crops, application rate management
- Pest Management: mulches - killed
- Production Systems: transitioning to organic
Processing tomato agriculture has developed growing methods that are aligned with the low prices of processing tomatoes versus fresh market tomatoes. Unlike fresh market tomato growers, processing tomato growers cannot use plastic mulch and staking practices to reduce the dissemination of fungal pathogens because these growing practices are too expensive. Instead, processing tomatoes must be sprayed regularly to prevent unacceptable quality and yield loss.
The Rodale Crimper mechanically kills a cover crop to create a natural mulch which improves weed and pathogen suppression while enriching the soil and increasing water conservation. Conventional methods do not make use of mulch and rely on herbicides to kill cover crops. The use of the Rodale Roller Crimper (“Crimper”) to create a natural mulch has the potential to reduce exposure of the crop to fungal pathogens while also suppressing weeds. This could improve yield and quality while also reducing the dependency on chemical inputs to kill the cover crop as well as to maintain crop quality. In turn, this could lower operating expenses for processing tomato farmers while also reducing the environmental impact of current practices.
Our primary objective is to investigate whether the use of the Rodale Crimper interferes with mechanical harvesting. More specifically, we want to examine whether a rye mulch created by the Rodale Crimper decays quickly enough to not interfere with mechanical harvest. Our secondary goal is to perform a qualitative foliar and fruit disease evaluation on processing tomatoes grown using the Rodale Crimper versus those using conventional methods.
Project objectives from proposal:
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.