Tomato Variety Trials for Flavor, Quality and Agronomic Performance, to Increase High-value Direct Marketing Opportunities for Farmers and On-farm Trialing Capacity

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2014: $199,866.00
Projected End Date: 04/30/2018
Grant Recipient: University of Wisconsin-Madison
Region: North Central
State: Wisconsin
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Julie Dawson
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Vegetables: tomatoes


  • Crop Production: food product quality/safety
  • Education and Training: extension, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: marketing management, value added
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems, urban agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    The growing interest on the part of consumers and restaurants in high quality local foods presents a direct-marketing opportunity for farmers. Tomatoes are potentially a high-return crop for diversified vegetable farmers. A survey of organic vegetable farmers in Wisconsin ranked tomatoes as a top research and plant breeding priority. Hoop-house production is also a topic of importance to many growers in the North Central Region (NCR) as yields and quality are potentially higher than field-grown tomatoes. Flavor and quality are difficult to measure in a quantitative way, but critical to capturing high value markets. We are focusing on tomatoes as a model crop but the participatory trialing network created through this project will be the basis for future farmer-driven research focused on a variety of crop species. We propose to conduct organic and low-input IPM field trials investigating selection of tomato varieties for optimal economic and environmental sustainability on two research stations and on 6 participating farms. We will identify 20 tomato varieties based on preliminary trials, and information about desired characteristics from farmers, chefs and plant breeders. We will evaluate these for regional adaption of agronomic traits and disease resistance in organic research station and organic and IPM on-farm trials. We will also evaluate flavor for each variety with a panel of chefs currently sourcing local products. Plant nutritional analysis, pH and brix measurements will be used to characterize each variety and identify potential correlations with quality and flavor. These trials and participatory evaluations will provide data for breeders, researchers, farmers and seed companies to identify both promising varieties and traits needing improvement for the NCR. Building from these trials and end-use evaluations, we will develop a network of farmers, extension specialists and chefs interested in participatory research. Incorporating data from this project, we will create an online database that will be easy for farmers to both access and contribute to, following the model of successful citizen science projects and participatory plant breeding trial methodology. This database will serve as a foundation for future vegetable variety trials focused on regional adaptation. This project will provide immediate results and recommendations for tomato varieties with the agronomic and quality characteristics needed in the NCR, while providing information to seed companies and breeders about the characteristics needing improvement. We will also establish a framework for long-term participatory research and trialing of varieties for diversified farms and sustainable agricultural systems.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project will result in recommendations for tomato varieties that have both disease resistance and superior flavor for direct sale to high-value markets in the NCR. We will include variety recommendations for both hoop house and field production, as previous research has identified tomatoes as one of the highest-value crops for hoop house production.


    The project will also generate data of use to breeders, researchers and organic seed companies interested in developing high quality tomatoes with good disease resistance and agronomic performance in the NCR. This data will be returned to collaborating plant breeding programs. The trial data and database will be used as a starting point for on-farm selection and participatory breeding in the NCR.


    We will involve chefs and end-users in evaluation, making direct connections between farmers and chefs and increasing farmer to restaurant sales of high quality tomatoes. As flavor and quality are difficult to evaluate well on a large number of varieties, laboratory measurements will be used to help characterize varieties. We will determine analytical measurement correlations to good flavor so that poor quality varieties could be screened out before more extensive evaluation by sensory panels or chefs in future studies.


    An online database and data collection application for tablets and smart phones will be created for trial data entry and tested by participating farmers. This database will allow the submission and organization of data from both on-station research trials and on-farm trials. Participating farmers will be able to easily view data from locations similar to their own as well as aggregated trial data from all sites.


    This project will strengthen a network of farmers, chefs and plant breeders that has started preliminary trials around Madison. The trials in this project will be a model for other crops and create a framework for on-farm trialing involving end users in the evaluation of quality traits. This network and data handling and sharing systems will be useful for future vegetable breeding efforts in Wisconsin and the region.

    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.