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


    Many organic and low-input farmers in the Upper Midwest are using high tunnels (hoop houses) to extend the season for tomato production. We are using participatory research methods to evaluate tomato varieties for agronomic traits, disease resistance, flavor and quality for local and regional markets in the North Central Region. We compared tomato variety performance in high tunnels and open-field management, and developed a network of farmers who are evaluating varieties in on-farm trials. We assessed quality and flavor by using a combination of farmer evaluations, research staff evaluations and Madison area chef evaluations, in addition to several public taste tests at field days and other events.

    The dramatically higher yield in the high tunnel was due to both an extended season and substantially lower foliar disease incidence in the high tunnel environment. Despite the generally held opinion that modern varieties are higher yielding and more disease resistant than heirlooms, while heirlooms are more flavorful, we found more variation among varieties within these groups than between them. In addition to our findings on tomato variety performance in the upper Midwest, we have improved our participatory trialing methodology to more meaningfully involve farmers and other experts in variety trialing research, and created a participatory trialing network for tomatoes and other crops in the upper Midwest.

    Project objectives:

    1. 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.
    2. Characterize varieties with acidity, Brix and nutritional measurements, and identify potential correlations with quality and flavor.
    3. Evaluate flavor for each variety with a panel of chefs currently sourcing local products.
    4. Provide data for breeders, researchers, farmers and seed companies to identify both promising varieties and traits needing improvement for the NCR.
    5. Develop a network of farmers, extension specialists and chefs interested in participatory research.
    6. 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
    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.