Rediscovering the Rutgers tomato

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2015: $14,900.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2016
Region: Northeast
State: New Jersey
Project Leader:
Peter Nitzsche
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Morris County

Annual Reports


  • Vegetables: tomatoes


  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, on-farm/ranch research
  • Production Systems: general crop production

    Proposal abstract:

    To ensure continued profitability for northeastern US growers, it is crucial to develop new value-added vegetable varieties in the region. In this vein, the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (NJAES) project “Rediscovering the New Jersey Tomato” successfully re-released several flavorful tomato varieties which had been eliminated from the marketplace. The program generated positive publicity for NJ tomato farmers and helped increase sales of local fruit to consumers and transplants to gardeners. To capitalize on this momentum, the cross used to create the once popular and widely planted ‘Rutgers’ tomato was recreated in an effort to breed an updated and more flavorful tomato variety. After several years of selection and refinement of this cross, the Rutgers NJAES research team now has three advanced selections to use for final evaluation. Since the “new” ‘Rutgers’ is targeted for both commercial growers and home gardeners, partnering with local farmers and Master Gardeners will help the team make the final selection of tomato(s) to release as commercial variety(s). The partnership will allow farmers and Master Gardeners to get firsthand experience growing the tomato selections and allow for valuable data to be collected on their performance. The result of the partnerships should culminate with the release of a new flavorful tomato variety(s) and the production of foundation seed in anticipation of commercial production. Outreach efforts will help increase awareness by farmers, gardeners and consumers of local production of flavorful tomato varieties and help to increase sales of both tomato transplants and fruit by local farmers.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Proposed Solution
    Rutgers NJAES has embarked in an effort to create new tomato varieties bred specifically for production and marketing in the northeastern U.S. The question remains as to which of the tomato selections developed meet the needs of farmers, gardeners and consumers

    1. Partner with local farmers and gardeners to evaluate advanced tomato selections to determine the best material for varietal release and commercialization for local fruit and transplant production.

    2. Generate tomato plant horticultural characteristics, yield, fruit quality and consumer preference data from on farm trials, field research trials and Master Gardener home garden trials.

    3. Produce seed of the tomato selections to be commercialized by collecting fruit from the research trials.

    4. Educate farmers, gardeners, consumers on the project and generate positive publicity to create a market for the tomato seed, transplants, and fruit of the variety(s) to be released.

    This project will consist of a final comprehensive Rutgers, commercial grower, and home gardener evaluation and selection of an updated version of the ‘Rutgers’ tomato.

    Farmer Trials
    • Three tomato grower cooperators from throughout New Jersey (in the north, central, and southern areas of the state) will be identified to participate in on farm field trials. Transplants of the advanced tomato selection along with commercial control varieties will be produced by Rutgers NJAES and distributed to the grower cooperators.  Grower cooperators will be given specific protocols for establishing the plots, growing the plants, and evaluating performance of plot entries. Criteria to be evaluated will include total yield, marketable yield, fruit quality, and fruit sensory quality.

    Master Gardener Trials
    • Three Rutgers Master Gardener County programs will be identified to participate in garden trials. Transplants of the advanced tomato selection and commercial control varieties will be produced by Rutgers NJAES and distributed to the Master Gardener Cooperators. Master Gardener cooperators will be given specific protocols for establishing the plots, growing the plants, and evaluating performance of plot entries. Criteria to be evaluated will include total yield, marketable yield, fruit quality, and fruit sensory quality.

    Replicated Field Research Trials at Research Stations
    • Replicated field research trials will be conducted at two University research farms: Rutgers Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Bridgeton, NJ (RAREC) Snyder Research and Extension Farm, Pittstown, NJ (Snyder).

    • These trials will be promulgated and evaluated in the same manner as the commercial grower and Master Gardener trials described above.

    Sensory Evaluation
    • The Rutgers University Food Science Department will train the PIs and Class 4 employee (TBD) on subsequent training of consumer taste panel participants. Consumer taste criteria will be “flavor”, “texture”, and “overall preference” on a metric 1-5 scale.

    • The PIs or Class 4 employee will then travel to each plot location during early July 2015 to train a panel of three tomato fruit quality evaluators per research plot.

    • Each 3-evaluator panel will convene once during the 2015 growing season, following the 2nd or 3rd harvest, to conduct the evaluations according to the established protocols.  Analyses of data and selection of ‘Rutgers 250’

    • Completed data spreadsheets will be obtained from all 8 locations and merged into a single database

    • Composite scores that integrate field and fruit quality performance and consumer sensory criteria will be developed and implemented

    • The breeding selection with the highest score will be chosen for release as ‘Rutgers 250’

    Seed Production
    • Seeds of the three advanced Rutgers 250 tomato breeding lines for commercialization will be produced by collecting fruit from production plots at the Rutgers Snyder Farm. Seed processing will be performed by contractors of the “Rediscovering the Jersey Tomato” program during winter 2015-2016 (separately from the scope of this proposal).

    • Seeds from the entry chosen as ‘Rutgers 250’ will be milled, packaged, and distributed to commercial farmers and home gardeners in spring 2016 through the existing “Rediscovering the Jersey Tomato” program.

    Project Timetable
    Identify growers, Master Gardener organizations, employees that will participate in the project:
    March 1 – April 15, 2015
    P. Nitzsche and T. Orton

    Purchase field supplies including stakes, twine, fertilizers, plastic mulch, drip tape:
    March 1 – March 31, 2015
    P. Nitzsche and T. Orton

    Sow seed of trial tomatoes:
    April 10-20, 2015
    P. Nitzsche, T. Orton, Class 4 employee TBD

    Establish Grower and Master Gardener Cooperator trial:
    May 15-31, 2015
    P. Nitzsche, T. Orton, Class 4 employee TBD

    Monitor progress of plants in trials:
    June 1 – July 31, 2015
    Class 4 employee TBD, Student employee TBD, with supervision by P. Nitzsche and T. Orton

    Train consumer taste/preference panels:
    August 1 – August 15, 2015
    Dr. Beverly Tepper, Rutgers Food Science Dept.

    Oversee variety trial harvests, performance evaluations, data collections, and consumer taste/preference panels:
    August 15 – September 15, 2015
    Class 4 employee TBD, Student employee TBD, with supervision by P. Nitzsche and T. Orton

    Conduct grower twilight educational meetings and demonstrations at RAREC and Snyder Farm:
    August 15 – September 15, 2015
    P. Nitzsche, T. Orton

    Collect seeds from advanced selections for distribution in 2016:
    September 1 – September 20, 2015
    Class 4 employee TBD, T. Orton

    Analyze results and select the breeding line(s) to be released as the “new ‘Rutgers’ in 2016:
    October 1 – December 31, 2015
    Class 4 employee TBD, P. Nitzsche, T. Orton

    Grower cooperators will learn first-hand how the tomato breeding lines perform on their farms. A larger numbers of farmers will get an opportunity to view the tomatoes at twilight educational meetings held at the two research center sites.

    Consumers will learn about the project at the annual Great Tomato Tasting event held at the Snyder Farm in late August that attracts over 1,000 participants and representatives from local media.

    Trials with Master Gardeners will increase awareness among gardeners and create an outreach team for information about the new variety(s) upon release. This outreach will benefit farmers by creating a market for transplants of the new tomato variety(s).

    Fruit of the tomato breeding lines from the research trials will be donated to high-end restaurants in the tri-state area to help establish demand for local production.

    The project will provide a training opportunity for students at the secondary, undergraduate, and graduate levels of educational study. A minimum of two Rutgers University student interns (funded from other sources) will gain valuable hands-on practical training in applied agricultural science while providing labor for the project.

    Tomato fruit from field trials not needed for research will be donated to local food banks and food pantries to benefit the needy and facilitate additional awareness and positive publicity on the project.

    Following the conclusion of the project, the PIs will communicate results at the Mid-Atlantic Fruit and Vegetable Convention (Hershey, PA; Feb. 2016), Mid-Atlantic Agricultural Convention and Trade Show (Atlantic City, NJ; Feb. 2016), Annual North- and Central-New Jersey Vegetable Meetings (Feb. 2016), and the Mid-Atlantic Vegetable Workers Conference (Newark, DE; Nov. 2015). 

    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.