Increasing profitability of tomato production in high tunnels

Project Overview

Project Type: Partnership
Funds awarded in 2016: $14,800.00
Projected End Date: 04/15/2018
Grant Recipient: University of Maryland Extension
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Willie Lantz
University of Maryland Extension

Annual Reports


  • Vegetables: tomatoes


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

    Proposal abstract:

    Improving the quality of common hybrid tomatoes grown in high tunnels will increase farmers profits. Common hybrid varieties of tomatoes such as 'Big Beef often suffer from ripening disorders when grown in high tunnels. Because of customer demand producers continue to grow these varieties in spite of loosing nearly 25% of their crop to ripening disorders such as yellow shoulders. Low levels of potassium are often associated with tomato ripening disorders such as yellow shoulders. Research with grafted heirloom varieties has shown to increase the potassium level. Our project will compare the fruit quality of grafted versus non-grafted hybrid tomatoes evaluating them based on marketability and yield. Two project tours will be held each year during the growing season which will be advertised to producers in the region. We will also develop fact sheets and presentations for vegetable meetings.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The question to be answered by the project would be, "Can grafting common hybrid varieties and greenhouse varieties of tomatoes increase the quality of fruit produced in high tunnels". The objectives of the project are to:

    1. Compare fruit quality and production between grafted versus non·grafted 'Big Beef tomatoes using rootstocks that favor uptake of water and nutrients
    2.  Compare fruit quality and production of grafted versus non-grafted greenhouse tomato varieties.
    3. lncrease adoption of grafted tomato plants among high tunnel tomato producers


    The project will be conducted on three farms and at Frostburg Grows.  The research will be conducted in established high tunnels with growers that have experience growing tomatoes. Frostburg Grows is a high tunnel growing project operated by Frostburg State University and the Western Maryland RC&D. This project will be conducted over two production seasons to reduce the effect of weather on the project results.   A soil test will be taken in each high tunnels at the beginning of each season. Each of the farms will grow 'Big Beef and 'Big Denna' tomatoes. Sixty plants of each variety in both grafted and non-grafted plants will be planted in three randomized blocks at each farm. Grafted plants will be obtained from a commercial source. The rootstock  'Arnold' will be used based on its ability to increase water and nutrient uptake by the plant. Both grafted and non-grafted plants will be started at the same time in a greenhouse. These plants will be transplanted at 10 weeks to 4" pots in the middle of March. The expected placement date of these plants in the high tunnel will be the middle of April. The plants will be planted in raised beds covered with black plastic on five to six foot centers.  The plants will be planted 16" apart in the row. The plants will be covered every night with a heavy duty row cover until the night temperature are consistently over 55oF. The plants will be trellised using string and plant clips and pruned to a single stem. A uniform fertilization program will be used by all the farms which will include fertilizer incorporated into the soil and through drip irrigations. Drip irrigation will be used with daily watering controlled by a water timer.

    A tissue analysis will be taken each month starting June 1st and ending on October 1st. The tissue analysis will be taken from each variety of grafted and non-grafted plants at each farm. The tissue analysis will be conducted by a commercial lab. Tomatoes will be harvested two times per week likely starting the first part of June and continuing until late October. Fruit from each plot will be weighed and evaluated marketability based on fruit ripening disorders (yellow shoulders on 'Big Beef and hard cores on 'Big Denna'.  A scale for each of the fruit ripening disorders will be established and farmers will be trained to evaluate fruit.

    At project tours, farmers will be surveyed as to their knowledge and use of grafted tomatoes in high tunnels. The project tours will conducted during the month of September. Addresses will be collected from the participants and a follow up survey will be sent to first year participants to determine if project tour participants had decided to use grafted tomato plants.

    Grafted plants will be purchased by the project coordinator on March 1st and will be transplanted into 4 inch pots in a greenhouse the middle of March. The farmers will be responsible for preparing their high tunnel for planting by the middle of April. Plants will be planted by the farmers between the middle and end of April. The project coordinator will be responsible for determining the plot design and assisting farmers will laying out the design.

    The farmers will be responsible for planting the tomato plants and managing the plants on a day to day basis. The project coordinator will provide plant labels to identify plant plots.  Prior to the first harvest, around the first of June, the project coordinator will train the farmers on evaluating marketability and provide materials for recording yield and marketability. The project coordinator will collect the yield and marketability data on a monthly basis and pull the tissue sample. The project coordinator will be responsible  for analyzing data within 30 days of the last harvest.  This project will be conducted for two growing seasons (2016 and 2017).

    Outreach plan

    Two project tours will be conducted in each of the project years on cooperating farms.  Farmers including members of local tailgate market associations, cooperatives and produce auctions in the region will be invited to attend the project tours through extension newsletters, newspaper  articles and social media. Presentation will be prepared to be given at local and regional vegetable workshops.   Extension fact sheets and journal articles will be developed to describe the project and results.

    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.