High Tunnel Tomato Variety Trial
There has been rapid expansion of greenhouse tomato production in New York State over the last 5 years. Greenhouse tomatoes capitalize on local markets and available labor. However, heating a greenhouse in upstate New York requires high-energy input and can be cost prohibitive. An alternative to a fully heated greenhouse is the hoop house or high tunnel. Unlike greenhouses, these structures have no supplemental heat or automated ventilation. High tunnels can be moved, which offers an advantage for rotating into fresh soil for tomato culture, to avoid pest and disease build-up, as well as nutrient depletion.
Until this trial, determinant, field varieties were grown in high tunnels. Due to the high yields obtained by local growers with hydroponic, indeterminate varieties in greenhouses, we decided to investigate if these varieties would perform better than determinate field types in an unheated high tunnel. A trial of 4 tomato varieties was established within an unheated high tunnel at a cooperating farm. 21 plants each of indeterminate varieties Boa, Trust, Big Beef, and determinate variety Mtn. Spring, were transplanted in a randomized complete block design with 4 replications. The indeterminate varieties were trained to a vertical trellis and single growing point, while the determinate variety was pruned for optimal production within a tomato cage.
Harvest and data collection began on July 1, 2004 and ended November 2, 2004. Yield data was recorded for each harvest using a digital scale. Total weight per block in pounds was recorded as well as number of fruit. For each variety in the trial mean weight per plant, mean fruit per plant and mean weight per fruit was calculated. Data were analyzed using Analysis of Variance (ANOVA), and treatment means were separated using Fishers Least Significant Difference.
Varieties Big Beef and Boa had significantly higher yields than Mtn. Spring and Trust as measured by mean tomato yield per plant. Big Beef and Boa also yielded significantly higher number of mean fruit per plant than Mtn. Spring. Big Beef yielded a significantly heavier mean weight per fruit than the other three varieties. These results suggest that high tunnel tomato growers could realize higher yields by adopting indeterminate varieties and trellis methods of heated greenhouses, but the trial should be repeated another season before conclusions are made.
We hoped to compare 4 tomato varieties in an unheated high tunnel by measuring yiel in total weight, total number of frtui, and mean fruit weight.
We endeavored to share our information with other growers in the region.
We wanted to compare vertical to horizontal trellising.
We wanted to observe disease and insect pest trends in the high tunnel, and manage them in a sustainable manner.
Harvest and data collection began on July 1, 2004 and ended November 2, 2004. Data presented herein covers the period from July 1 until October 12, 2004. Yield data was recorded for each harvest using a digital scale. Harvests were recorded on forty (40) separate dates. Total weight per block in pounds was recorded as well as number of fruit. For each variety in the trial mean weight per plant, mean fruit per plant and mean weight per fruit was calculated. Data were analyzed using Analysis of Variance (ANOVA), and treatment means were separated using Fishers Least Significant Difference.
As the electronic posting of this report does not support tables, the following data is provided in paragraph form.
Big Beef had a mean yield of 21.23 .lbs per plant, compared to 19.41 for Boa, 16.49 for Trust and 16.35 for Mtn. Spring. Big Beef had a mean yield of 37.38 tomato fruit per plant, compared to 40.86 for Boa, 34.54 for Trust, and 33.12 for Mtn. Spring. Big Beef yielded a mean weight per fruit of 0.57 .lbs, compared to 0.47 for Boa, 0.47 for Trust, and 0.5 for Mtn. Spring.
Varieties Big Beef and Boa had statistically significant higher yields than Mtn. Spring and Trust as measured by mean tomato yield per plant. Big Beef and Boa also yielded significantly higher number of mean fruit per plant than Mtn. Spring. Big Beef yielded a significantly heavier mean weight per fruit than the other three varieties. These results suggest that high tunnel tomato growers could realize higher yields by adopting indeterminate varieties and trellis methods of heated greenhouses, but the trial should be repeated another season before conclusions are made.
The indeterminate varieties yielded more consistently over time than Mtn. Spring. This may be an advantage or disadvantage depending on market windows. If a grower prefers a heavy flush of fruit prior to availability of field grown tomatoes, the determinate variety may be preferable. Alternatively if the grower desires a long, sustained harvest, the indeterminate types were superior in this trial. Economic research of price trends at wholesale produce auctions is required to assist growers with this decision.
An interesting anecdote from this trial is low disease pressure incidence in the high tunnel. Late blight, a devastating disease of tomatoes was widespread in the 2004 growing season, and had infected the cooperating grower’s home garden, less than 50 feet from the high tunnel trial. No late blight was observed in the high tunnel and no fungicide was sprayed. The low relative humidity of the high tunnel may have prevented late blight spores from infecting the tomatoes in this trial.
We hosted an educational meeting at the trial site on August 4, 2004. Over 40 growers from throughout the Finger Lakes region of New York State attended. A report on the trial was distributed to attendees.
A summary of our experience and findings will be presented in a Power Point presentation at the Finger Lakes Produce Auction annual growers meeting January 6, 2005. This event typically attracts 120 growers. A text report has been added to the grower’s reference library at the Finger Lakes Produce Auction.
A text report has been direct mailed to all greenhouse and high tunnel tomato growers in the Yates County Cornell Cooperative Extension database and posted as an html document on the Cornell Cooperative Extension webpage.
An article on the project will be printed in the Winter 2005 edition of Small Farm Quarterly, with a circulation of 26,300 in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states.
A research report was submitted to the Proceedings of the 2005 Congress of the American Plasticulture Society, to be presented March 5-8, 2005 in Charleston, S.C.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
By implementing vertical trellising and indeterminate varieties into the participating grower’s high tunnel we demonstrated a potential increase in revenue of $4880 in a 500-plant operation. This represents a potential for $21230 of income in the improved management approach vs. $16350 in the previous style. Although it was not in the scope of this grant to measure adoption by other growers, the higher yields (with no heat or pesticides) made for excellent extension opportunities. Over 50 growers, or people interested in growing this style, were given tours and yield data at the trial site, including an attendance of 40 growers at a summer twilight meeting. A Power Point presentation will be made to over 300 growers, researchers and extension professionals in the Winter of 2005. A print summary of the project will be in the hands over 26,000 people.
Several growers have contacted the principal investigator expressing a willingness to cooperate on similar SARE grants in the coming seasons.
The cooperating grower, Howard Hoover, was invaluable to the success of this project. However, as a member of an Old Order Mennonite community, Mr. Hoover is reluctant to have his name featured prominently in any publicity.