Improving Growing Practices for Processing Tomatoes Using Rodale Roller Crimper
Our Annual Report for 2011 is included below.
Our objective is to evaluate the use of the Rodale Roller Crimper for processing tomato farming. 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 Rodale Crimper provides a mechanical kill to cover crops such as rye to create a natural mulch. This natural mulch improves weed and pathogen suppression while enriching the soil and increasing water conservation. The natural mulch also helps avoid the use of plastic mulch and reduces the need for chemical-based weed control and fertilizer. It also avoids the use of chemicals in killing cover crops.
The processing tomato market is fundamentally different from its fresh market tomato counterpart, necessitating a research project tailored to its needs. This project partners with Katona Farms, one of the largest processing tomato farms in the Northeast, to assess the efficacy of the Crimper at improving conventional methods. This project would have access to an existing Crimper owned by Rutgers University.
First Field is farming two acres in Kingston, NJ, and growing mostly tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beets, and greens. First Field continues to grow for area restaurants and a local non-profit organization. Katona Farms continues to farm over a thousand acres in Burlington County, NJ of mostly tomatoes, asparagus and corn.
Aside from Theresa Viggiano and Patrick Leger (First Field) and members of the Katona family (Katona Farms), we have been working very closely with Dr. Jack Rabin, our technical advisor. He has collaborated with other advisors throughout the project, including Meredith Melendez (extension agent for Mercer County, NJ) and equipment coordinators/machinists from the Rutgers Extension Service.
We began the project with planning meetings with our technical advisor at our test plot. We determined where we would locate our test plot, how we would irrigate it, determined transplanting requirements, machinery requirements, and visual inspection of rye cover crop.
Subsequently, we retrieved the Rodale Roller Crimper, mounted it on a tractor, and used it to roll down the cover crop. Dr. Rabin borrowed a modified RJ Transplanter which we installed behind. This modified transplanter had a mounted disc to cut through the rye bed and required considerable mechanical adjustments to successful transplant our tomato seedlings. We transplanted our seedlings a foot apart into three 300’ rows. We then transplanted the same amount into an adjacent plot that had been fully tilled. An irrigation headline and 6 drip lines were installed. The plants were watered in an even pattern across both plots.
The weed pressure on the rye mulch quickly became too great relative to the conventional plot. Spot weeding was performed using a backpack sprayer on a number of occasions. Hand weeding was performed as well. The plants were subsequently overwhelmed by weed pressure. This, along with the pressure caused by Hurricane Irene during peak tomato season, led us to decide to reestablish our experiment at a new test location in 2012. We already sowed a much higher density of rye in the Fall of 2011 at our new location in preparation for our repeat experiment.
We successfully used the Roller Crimper to create a rye mulch and mechanically transplanted our processing tomato seedlings. We do not have any specific results as far as yield and quality at this point since the experiment will be repeated in 2012.
The 2011 season was very difficult for NJ farmers. There were severe drought conditions in July, followed by record rain in August and September. Even before Hurricane Irene, conditions were abnormally wet for August. We believe that these conditions were out of the ordinary and posed significant difficulties on our experiment.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
We do not have any economic findings at this point.
We anticipate having findings after the 2012 season. One of the areas that proved more complicated than anticipated was being able to use a mechanical transplanter that worked effectively within the rye mulch. We underestimated the amount of time required to adjust and modify machinery for this experiment. We knew that the Rodale Roller Crimper would take some time and planned accordingly but something that would be helpful going forward is an equipment compatibility framework that could be developed for the Rodale Roller Crimper in order to provide guidance within highly mechanized growing environments.
1097 Canal Road
Princeton, NJ 08540
Office Phone: 8582455600
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
88 Lipman Drive
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
Office Phone: 7329325000