Return to archives

February 2004

›› Water Issues a Top Concern

›› Methyl Bromide Replacement - No Silver Bullet Available
›› Optimum Management of Fresh Market, Field-grown Tomatoes, Part 2

April 2004

›› BC Hot House Foods Inc. - Strategic Allowances Helping Build Marketing Muscle

›› Empire State Conference Report
›› Sakata's Double Up Pepper Best Quality in Fruit Trials
›› Highlights from the Annual California Tomato Commission Conference
›› Creating Luck through Strategic Planning
›› Tomato Herbicides: What We Have Gained, What We Have Lost and Possible Future Labels

June 2004

›› Following the European Trend
: Greenhouse Tomatoes Expected to Dominate the Fresh Tomato Market
›› Arizona Study Shows Temperature Important During Seedling Shipments
›› NationFresh: Market Alliance Off to a Fast Start
›› Preventing Blossom End Rot in Tomatoes
›› BC Hot House Foods Inc. Launches Sweetooth Peppers






August 2004

›› Fresh Market Tomatoes: Foodservice, Hispanic Segments Prefer Field-grown

›› Florida Tomato Update--Produce Departments: Tomato Contribution Growing
›› Effect of Oxygen Enrichment in the Root Zone on Tomato Crops
›› Tomatoes Get Genetic Boost Under Sustainable Ag System

October 2004

December 2004




























Water Issues a Top Concern

The Tomato Magazine
February 2004

By D. Brent Clement
Managing Editor

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - Water usage, an important and emerging issue for Michigan tomato producers, was among the key topics discussed here Dec. 9 during the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market Expo tomato session. The session was held at the new DeVos Place Convention Center.

Heading the list of speakers was Timothy Hartz, with the University of California, Davis, who spoke on "California Tomato Production and Fertigation/Irrigation." A major part of his presentation was on the growing use of drip irrigation in California.

California producers grow approximately 35,000 acres of fresh market tomatoes each year and 280,000 acres of processing tomatoes, Hartz said. More than 50,000 acres of that will be under drip irrigation in 2004. As overall production costs continue to spiral, drip irrigation is rapidly becoming the way to irrigate.
Setup costs for total systems typically run between $400 and $1,000 per acre, he explained. But once the initial system is in place, drip tape runs only $120 to $250 per acre and has a life expectancy of three to six years. Other drip system components last much longer.

The Promise of Increased Yields
The major advantage of a drip system is the promise of increased yields, typically 10 to 30 percent, he said. With the cost of water becoming more and more expensive, drip systems are now much more competitive than they once were, he said.

Hartz also talked on nutrient management in California tomato fields. With phosphorus (P), the "crunch time" is early growth, he said. Under most conditions, preplant banding or liquid starters are the two best choices. Drip fertigation should seldom be necessary. Soil tests are useful and should be followed.

When considering nitrogen management strategies, remember tomato plants are effective nitrogen (N) scavengers, he said. In dozens of California field trials, tomato yields generally maximize at seasonal N rates of less than 150 lb/acre. Fertigation is considered the most efficient application technique. The fertigation rate should reflect the crop growth rate. The N source is "of little importance in most field conditions," Hartz said.

Tomatoes have a high potassium (K) requirement, both for fruit yield and color, the researcher said. Soil test and variety selection are crucial in determining K fertilization rates. Where K is required, fertigation is the most efficient technique. K uptake peaks during fruit bulking; so should fertigation.

"Crop fertilizer needs can be anticipated and delivered efficiently, Hartz promised, warning, however, that growers should understand the limitations of nutrient monitoring.

Improving Fruit Quality
In a presentation entitled, "Strategies to Improve Fruit Quality in Fresh Market Tomatoes," Michigan researcher Sieglinde Snapp warned that a slow and consistent nutrient supply is fundamental to improving tomato fruit quality. While fertigation helps, it is important to guard against large fluctuations in nutrients, she said.

Snapp suggested several things to do to help ensure that a tomato crop receives "a slow and consistent nutrient supply."

"One is the use of amendments to build the organic nutrient 'slow release' pool," she said. "Organic inputs can be combined with conventional fertigation, or used instead."

One of the most effective amendments currently being used in Michigan tomato fields is a combination of moderate amounts of compost (2,000 to 5,000 lb/acre of a high quality compost from poultry manure or swine) with a cover crop, Snapp said. Such compounds must be incorporated well in advance, at least one to six months, before beds are prepared and tomato plants are transplanted. Cover crop residues, combined with compost, will generally improve nutrient release and supply to the fast growing tomato fruit.

"Recent experiments we conducted in southwest Michigan indicate that improved potassium fertility may be a key component to good nutrition - to support high quality, marketable fresh tomato yields," the researcher said. "Field experiments carried out in 2002 and 2003 found that increasing late fertigation to a 1N:3K fertilizer regime (instead of 1N:1K or 1N:2K) and application of boron foliar sprays (0.2 lb/acre of boron) improved yields and quality. Late season calcium foliar sprays were also beneficial in some cases, but not all. There was a modest reduction in shoulder check quality defects associated with calcium, boron or a combined calcium plus boron foliar spray.

"Nutrition is the foundation of improving fruit appearance but there are other cultural practices to consider," warned Snapp. "Following recommended pruning practices will enhance air circulation and promote uniform growth. A much more expensive but effective means to optimize fresh market tomato fruit quality is to erect 'micro' high tunnels that protect fruit from rain splash and provide some frost protection."

Colored Mulch Question
Focusing his presentation on "Colored Plastic Mulch and Tomato Production," Mathieu Ngouajio, also from MSU, said his studies show mulches vary greatly in their ability to increase soil temperature.

"Black and IRT-green had the greatest heat unit accumulation (1,160 degree days [dd] during June," he said. "These were followed by the IRT-Brown (1,125 dd), gray (1,050 dd), white/black (950 dd) and white (875 dd). Only 740 dd were obtained with air temperature. Limited heat unit accumulated with air temperature indicates that under Michigan conditions, use of plastic mulch may be justified especially early in the season when soil temperature is usually low. Both IRT films used showed potential to increase early season soil temperature. However, their effect was only equivalent or slightly lower than standard black mulch."
Tomato marketable yield was separated into early and total yield, the researcher explained. Early yield was the first harvest in 2001 and the first two harvests in 2002. In both years, black and white mulches had consistently greater early yields.

Early yield was variable between years for the other mulches, Ngouajio reported. Mulch had no effect on total marketable yield. However, the IRT-Green mulch increased No. 1 yields both years.

The researcher believes that yield increase of No. 1 fruit with the IRT-Green mulch may increase total revenues. However, studies need to be conducted to determine if the greater yield of No. 1 fruit is high enough to justify the extra cost of using IRT-Green mulch over the traditional black mulch, he said.

Tomato Insect Review
Focusing on tomato insects, MSU researcher Walter Pett noted there are more than 10 million insect species in the world. Those threatening tomato crops include thrips, aphids, Colorado potato beetle, wireworms, cutworms, cabbage loopers, hornworms, flea beetle, fruit worms and mites.

The major concern with thrips is they can transmit the Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus in greenhouses, Pett said.
Several kinds of aphids can cause problems, he added. Among those are the green peach, potato, buckthorn and foxglove aphids. The insects multiply rapidly. Within a six-month period there can be up to 12 generations. That translates into the billions, but on the positive side, aphids have many natural enemies - parasitic wasps, lace wings, lady beetles, syrphid flies and others. Efforts to preserve these natural predators, at risk from the overuse of pyrethroid chemical controls, must be taken.

Pett showed pictures of various insects of interest to the tomato industry and explained their reproduction habits and methods of control.

© 2004 Columbia Publishing

>>Return to top


Methyl Bromide Replacement - No Silver Bullet Available Yet

The Tomato Magazine
February 2004

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - While researchers continue to look for effective alternatives to methyl bromide for fumigating tomato and peppers, there is no exciting news.

That was the word from Dr. Doug Sanders, a researcher from North Carolina State University, who spoke during the Great Lakes Fruit, Vegetable and Farm Market Expo pepper session. His presentation took place Dec. 9 at the new DeVos Place Convention Center in Grand Rapids.

Sanders was among four speakers participating in the pepper session. Others were Jack Aronson of Garden Fresh Gourmet in Ferndale, Mich.; Timothy Hartz, a researcher with the University of California, Davis; and Beth Bishop, a Michigan State University researcher.

In his research aimed at coming up with a useful alternative to methyl bromide, Sanders said he has been looking at various composts, including a controlled microbial mixture. It is composed of 30 percent dairy manure, 30 percent waste hay, 30 percent waste silage, five percent finished compost and five percent clay soil, he said.

A second alternative studied was a reactor-treated compost composed of de-watered swine waste, biofumigant crops (brassicas, sun hemp, velvet bean) and aerobic and spent mushroom composts.
While all have merit, nothing yet matches the effectiveness of methyl bromide fumigation, Sander said. Telone C-35 and napropamide (2 # ai) are currently the best options and yielded more fruit than all other treatments. Telone C-35 yielded more than Vapam.

Telone C-35 and metham sodium have exhibited inconsistent results in various trials, he cautioned.
"Regardless of the fumigant alternative, weed management will be critical in the post methyl bromide era," Sanders emphasized. Methyl iodide is an alternative but is cost-prohibitive at this time.

Pepper Supplies Needed
"What Local Processors Need from Local Producers" was the topic of a presentation by Jack Aronson of Garden Fresh Gourmet. He informed Michigan vegetable producers that his company is eager to use more locally grown produce.

The company markets an all natural salsa mix that has been growing in popularity. "Business has been doubling every year, and the prospects for the future are bright," the speaker said.

In the past, Garden Fresh Gourmet has ordered onions from Vidalia, Ga., and jalapeno peppers from Texas and Mexico. It has had a difficult time coming up with an adequate supply of habanero peppers. Other than tomatoes, salantros peppers are the largest single cost item in the company's salsa formula. The company markets an "all natural" product and does not use preservatives.

Joining Aronson in his presentation was Willard Snackford, who does all of the produce purchasing for the company. He said the two have been frustrated by having to pay higher than reasonable prices when local produce is out of season. He invited local growers to contact him at (248) 336-8486 if they wish to become a company supplier.

"We buy fresh every day, 365 days a year," Snackford said. "We're serious about the quality of our salsa, and we need a constant supply. "We've doubled our sales two years in a row now and expect to double them again in 2004."

Irrigation and Fertility Report
Timothy Hartz, who also addressed the tomato session, gave a similar report during the pepper session. He traced the growing popularity of drip irrigation in California tomato and pepper fields. Yield increases of 20 to 30 percent are commonly reported.

In his address, "Pepper Irrigation and Nutrient Management," Hartz gave a detailed explanation of what's involved in terms of cost and management expertise in employing a drip system. (See the tomato session report in this issue for more specifics.)

Concerning nutrient management, the speaker stressed the use of soil testing, as fertilizer needs can vary from field to field and within specific areas of a given field. "Crunch time" is early growth, he said, advising pepper growers to preplant ban or use a liquid "starter" fertilizer.

"Drip fertigation should seldom be necessary," he said.

In field trials in California and Florida, pepper yield and quality usually maximized at season nitrogen rates of less than 200 pounds per acre, he said. Fertigation is the most efficient application technique, but the fertigation rate should reflect the crop growth rate. The nitrogen source is of little importance under most field conditions. Once a week fertigation is generally sufficient.

Peppers have a moderate potassium requirement. Field testing shows that less than 150 parts per million have minimal potassium requirements. Where potassium is required, fertigation is the most efficient technique. Potassium uptake peaks during fruit bulking; so should fertigation, Hartz recommended.

Excessive fertilization can be problematic, both agronomically and environmentally, the scientist warned. In-season nutrient monitoring can be useful, but has important limitations.

Major Pepper Pests Reviewed
In her presentation, "What's Eating Your Peppers?" Beth Bishop noted that the most significant insect pests of peppers in Michigan are aphids (especially green peach aphid) and European corn borers. Both insects feed on many different crops and weeds and overwinter in Michigan, she said.

"Aphids damage peppers by spreading plant viruses, by excreting honeydew that contaminates fruit (and causes the growth of sooty mold), and by feeding on foliage producing stunting and deformation," Bishop explained. "Green peach aphids overwinter as eggs on trees. In the spring the eggs hatch and females give birth to live young. Eventually some adults develop wings and fly to new fields, where they land, feed and may settle in and give birth. During the growing season, under conditions of stress, such as overcrowding, plant senescence, etc., winged adults may develop and disperse to other fields.

"Aphids on peppers are usually kept under control by predators, parasites and diseases," she continued.

"These natural enemies prevent populations from building to damaging levels. Although aphids can transmit viruses, such transmission occurs within a matter of seconds - too fast for any insecticide to prevent it. There is little a grower can do to prevent virus transmission except for removing infected plants and crop debris, and keeping the area surrounding the field weed free. Insecticides applied for European corn borer control usually help control aphids, unless over-application of pyrethroid insecticides kills natural enemies. The crop is most vulnerable to aphid damage when fruit is present, and additional insecticide application to control aphids may be warranted at this point to prevent cosmetic damage to fruit."

European Corn Borer Challenge
European corn borers overwinter as mature larvae in plant stems, Bishop said, adding that in the spring, they complete development, merge as moths, mate and lay eggs (usually on corn). Subsequent generations (there are two and sometimes three generations per year in most of the Midwest) develop in mid to late July and early fall. Other crops (peppers, snap beans, apples, etc.) are often targets of the later generations.
"If insecticidal control of European corn borer is needed, knowing when to apply the insecticide is crucial," the researcher warned. "European corn borer goes through several population cycles each year, with peaks of egg laying. After the eggs hatch, there is a one- to three-day window that the larvae are vulnerable to insecticides; once they bore into the fruit or stem they are protected from most insecticides."

Orthlene (acephate) is the most effective corn borer insecticide in peppers, Bishop said, but there is a limit of two applications per year. These applications should be targeted toward peak egg hatching.

"Besides insecticides, cultural methods can help reduce European corn borer problems," Bishop explained. "heavy rainfall or regular irrigation increase mortality in young larvae. Nearby cornfields, which serve as a source of moths, and by all weedy areas surrounding the field (which serve as breeding sites) can increase problems in peppers, especially when the corn begins to senesce. Chopping crop debris or plowing it under in the fall can decrease European corn borer problems the following year by killing overwintering larvae."

© 2004 Columbia Publishing

>>Return to top



Optimum Management of Fresh Market, Field-grown Tomatoes, Part 2

The Tomato Magazine
February 2004

By Stephen Reiners (repeat jpeg from last issue)

Variety Selection
How you are growing tomatoes (staked or ground culture) and your market (shipping or direct market; wholesale or retail) determines the type of tomato to grow. There are three tomato growth habits: determinate, indeterminate and semi-determinate. Determinate types are relatively small, often referred to as bushy or compact. Each short branch ends in a flower cluster and the plant does most of its growing before any fruit are set. The tomatoes tend to ripen at once, usually over a short two- to three-week period. After most of the tomatoes are harvested the plant yellows and additional production is limited. If grown upright, the plants are seldom more than two to three feet tall. Some examples of this type include Pik-Red and Pilgrim. In general, many of the earliest varieties are determinate types.

Contrast the growth habit to indeterminate types. These are the traditional, large home garden varieties. They produce plants as large as you will allow them to grow. They have many widely spaced branches, numerous suckers and produce tomatoes all season long. These are the varieties that can be manipulated in all sorts of fashion to make the plants conform to your needs. Examples of this type of growth habit include Empire, Jet Star and most of the heirloom varieties.

In between these two are the semi-determinate types and are probably the most widely grown commercially. They will produce suckers like indeterminate types but not as many, and the plant will grow between three and five feet. Examples of semi-determinate types include Celebrity and Mountain Pride.

Pruning a plant will result in larger fruit, fewer culls and overall higher quality. The total number of fruit may be lower so place the plants closer together. Indeterminate varieties will have many suckers and branches, each producing many flowers and eventually fruit. These can be pruned and pruned severely. Determinate types, however, are pruned slightly if at all. Any pruning done on a determinate removes a finite number of blossoms and fruit. If you prune all the suckers on a determinate type you will have a small plant, few fruit and lots of sunscald due to a lack of foliage and shading. You will also dramatically reduce your yield. Semi-determinate types can be pruned but not nearly as much as indeterminates.

Plant Culture
There are two ways to grow tomato plants, upright and support (stakes, cages, etc.) or sprawled on the ground. There are advantages to an upright growth habit. An upright plant will use sunlight more effectively since there is less shading of leaves. An upright plant dries off more quickly following rain or morning dew. This lessens disease problems since wet foliage is a breeding ground for all kinds of fruit and leaf diseases. In addition, some diseases like anthracnose and buckeye rot lie in the soil waiting to infect fruit sitting on the ground. Growing the plants upright will eliminate these rots as well as lessen problems with slugs, mice and other pests, both large and small. Finally, fruit are easy to see and pick. No more wasting time searching under the foliage for ripe fruit and potentially breaking branches off the plant as you search.

Studies conducted in New Jersey in 1993 and 1994 confirm what was already suspected. Growing plants off the ground lessens disease problems. Foliar diseases were less on staked tomatoes, and postharvest rots averaged about 10 percent on staked plants and more than 30 percent on ground-cultured plants. Why the difference? Better air circulation and fungicide coverage on the staked fruit may be the reason. By the way, yields averaged 20 tons per acre for ground culture and 24 tons for stakes. Staked tomatoes were also bigger!

There are, of course, disadvantages with any method. First, whether you cage, stake or trellis, it will require more work (and more expense than simply planting the tomatoes and letting them grow unsupported. Since more sunlight is getting into the plant, you also run the risk of having more problems with sunscald. This occurs when fruit is exposed to the sun for long periods of time. The side receiving the light heats up, eventually yellows, and the fruit fails to ripen normally.

Florida Weave Method
The method used by more and more growers around the country is called the Florida weave method. Plants are placed on four- to six-inch raised beds, covered with plastic mulch and spaced no more than 18 inches apart in the row (tomatoes grown on stakes should be planted closer than ground-cultured plants). A stake is placed at every other plant, spaced evenly between the two plants. Use a sturdy stake, at least one inch square, four to six feet tall, depending on the variety you grow. Drive the stake into the soil using a compressed air hammer that can run off the tractor PTO or build a stake driving tool. Get a two-foot length of galvanized pipe, wide enough to fit around a stake. Screw on a cap on one end. Put the pipe over a stake, lift it up and let it fall. After about six blows with the stake driving tool, the stake will be in the ground.

The plants will need to be "strung" for the first time when they are about 10 inches tall. Make sure you get to them before they flop over. For stringing, use lightweight, thin, plastic twine. Plastic works much better than jute or cotton string which has a tendency to stretch or break. Use a five-pound box of string that can be attached to your belt. To make tying convenient, a homemade stringing tool can be made. The tool will work as an extension of your arm which limits the amount of bending you will need to do. Take an old broom handle or a shortened tomato stake about two feet long and drill two holes once inch from each end. The holes must be wide enough to allow the string to be fed through. Attach the box or string to your belt and thread the twine through both holes. Tie the end of the string to the first stake, about 10 inches above ground level. You are now ready to do the Florida weave.

Use the stringing tool to pass string along the near side of the first tomato plant and the far side of the second. As you get to the second stake, wrap the string tightly around the stake and continue down the row in the same fashion. When you reach the last stake in the row, work your way back down the row in a similar fashion. Between each stake, the twine should be in the shape of a figure eight so that each plant is held firmly in place. When you get back to where you began, tie the rope on the first stake and you are done, at least for the next couple of weeks. Repeat the procedure as the plants grow, placing strings about every 10 inches. You do not need to make the figure eight around each plant for the other strings. Simply run the string down one side of the plants and up the other side when you return. That will leave you with about four to five strings and a row of very sturdy tomato transplants.

If you use the Florida weave method, you will need to prune the plants. Research has shown that the best time to remove suckers is when they are about three to four inches long. When the plant is eight to 10 inches high, look carefully and observe the first flower cluster on the stem. Remove all the suckers below the flower cluster except for the one immediately below the cluster. You may have to go back and give these a second pruning seven to 10 days later. Remove no more than that or you run the risk of pruning too much. The amount of pruning to produce optimum yields varies. Some varieties would do better if you left two suckers below the flower cluster. Experiment and see which works best for the variety you are growing.

Editor's note: This is Part 2 of a presentation made by Stephen Reiners at the 2002 New York State Vegetable Conference in Liverpool, N.Y. Reiners is an associate professor, Department of Horticultural Sciences, NYSAES, Cornell University, Geneva, N.Y.

© 2004 Columbia Publishing

>>Return to top



BC Hot House Foods, Inc.

Strategic Alliances Helping Build Marketing Muscle

The Tomato Magazine
April 2004

By Brent Clement
Managing Editor

SURREY, BC - Strategic marketing alliances or marketing agreements that ensure a year-round supply of tomatoes, peppers and other commodities to its retail customers are making a big difference for BC Hot House Foods, Inc.

The Surrey, B.C. company signed an agreement with Agros SA de CV last October, for example, bringing together two of the industry's premium producers of greenhouse grown beefsteak tomatoes.
The alliance is an example of the year-round, critical mass greenhouse program that David Smith, chief executive officer of BC Hot House Foods has championed since taking office in August 2002. Located in Quaretaro, Mexico, 250 km northwest of Mexico City, Agros furnishes BC Hot House's winter beefsteak tomato supplies.

Agros' growing season, which runs from August to April, complements the annual production gap that BC Hot House experiences every off-season. The agreement supplies BC Hot House with a portion of Agros' beefsteak output. The product is packed into a standard 15-lb. carton and sold under the Agros label, with Mexico listed as the country of origin.

BC Hot House is also doing business with Malena Quality Produce, Inc., a Mexican pepper production operation. It is located in Coliacan and Los Mochis in the state of Sinaloa. Malena maintains a distribution center in Nogalas, Ariz.

In the United States, BC Hot House partners with Village Farms, headquartered in Eaton Town, N.J. Most of the company's produce is grown in Texas, but it also has production in Mexico.

"Village Farms' distribution and production fit us perfectly," says Dawn Gray, BC Hot House vice president of marketing. "Its fields are in production when ours are either very low or nonexistent. Likewise, when the Village Farms' season ends, ours is just getting under way."

Another advantage is the Village Farms' market is more focused on the East Coast, Gray notes. Although it has distribution centers in Seattle, Wash., Modesto, Calif., and Atlanta, Ga., BC Hot House's strongest markets, because of proximity, are on the West Coast. The business arrangement with Village Farms provides "great synergy."

In the summer time, when BC Hothouse is in full production with its beefsteak and large tomatoes on the vine (TOV), it also packs and ships product under the Village Farms' label, she explains. Likewise, during Village Farms' peak season, it reciprocates, and its products are sold under the BC Hot House label. PLU stickers are used to declare the country of origin, Canada or the U.S., whatever the case.

A World Leader
BC Hot House is a world leader in hydroponically grown produce. Founded in 1973 as the Western Greenhouse Growers Co-op, it was incorporated in 1997 under the BC Hot House Foods Inc. title. Owned by 47 grower-shareholders, the company offers its customers a full product line of hydroponically grown tomatoes - beefsteak, TOVs and specialty tomatoes on the vine (cherry, roma, cocktail, yellow, orange and mini plum). It also markets sweet bell peppers, sweet baby bell peppers, long English cucumbers and three entries under the Taste Buddies'® label: mini cucumbers, mini bell peppers and mini romas on the vine (the newest of the three to hit the market).

BC Hot House has approximately 450 acres under glass. The company ships 12.5 to 13 million cases of produce each year, 61 percent of that to U.S. customers. Total tomato sales (beefsteak, large TOV and cocktail TOV) this year are expected to be in the range of $106 million (Canadian). The company markets most of the balance of its produce at home in Canada. A small, but growing, percentage is sold overseas to various Asian markets.

In the Pacific Northwest, where BC Hot House tomatoes and other produce are widely distributed, the company label enjoys wide consumer recognition. Tests show 29 percent aided recall in the Pacific Northwest (Portland, Seattle and Vancouver), "quite favorable and impressive for the produce industry," according to Gray, especially since the company has not been advertising. Production has been increasing but at a steady, controlled pace. The company operates under a federal marketing order and is limited in how many acres it can grow.

While there continues to be a steady stream of customers loyal to beefsteak tomato varieties, demand for the large TOV segment is definitely growing, Gray notes. Large TOVs are no longer a specialty item but have become a staple within the tomato category.

"We've seen a tremendous increase in demand," Gray says. "Consequently, we've adjusted our supply side to match growing demand. Sixty to 65 percent of what we sell now is large TOVs and 30 to 45 percent are beefsteak."

Consumers definitely perceive large TOVs as an improved choice, she adds. Part of the reason is the way the product is presented, still on the vine. It conveys freshness.

"Here, we are essentially fooling the tomato to think that it is still on the vine," she smiles. "The shelf life extension is very real, and consumers quickly verify that for themselves."

Eying Increased Foodservice Trade
While most sales today are to retail customers, the company is gearing up to do more foodservice business. Kirk Homenick, who oversees business development in that area, sees a significant opportunity with white tablecloth restaurants, where produce taste, texture and appearance are all important.

"We're also looking at the quick casual segment," he adds. "These are restaurants catering to on-the-go customers who want a quick meal but are looking for healthier alternatives. Baja Fresh is an example."
Most foodservice customers are space-challenged, Homenick notes. They do not have room to store large retail-sized boxes of produce. Hence, BC Hot House has been downsizing its retail pack size to fit the bill. Smaller package sizing also helps its customers to better guarantee fresher ingredients.

"In general, we're offering our foodservice customers far superior varieties to those grown in the field," he says. "There is reduced need for peeling, cutting and preparation. Our bell peppers, for example, have thicker walls and are easier to handle."

Strong Research Program
Research remains very important to BC Hot House management. This begins with its key seed supplier, located in Holland, which has an extensive developmental program. BC Hot House also conducts its own trials in British Columbia to make sure that varieties selected will work under local environmental conditions. BC Hot House buys its supplies from Holland mainly because growing conditions there are similar to British Columbia.

"It's like the search for the Holy Grail," Gray jokes. "Our goal is to find a tomato that can deliver on taste, color, firmness and shelf life issues. The taste must be spectacular, the color a bright red, the fruit solid and firm and the product must have extended shelf life."

New this year is an experiment with 12 to 17 heirloom tomato varieties, according Homenick. BC Hot House is using its advanced production technologies to grow heirlooms under a hothouse environment.

"We're responding to requests for heirloom varieties from our retail customers," Homenick explains. "We're very excited about this move. It's something new and way outside of the box, but we've always taken pride in being innovative within the industry and trying out new things. Our heirloom production is set this year, but if demand is there for certain varieties in the mix, we will quickly adapt and boost production in that direction in 2005."

Homenick and Gray also have high hopes for the company's new mini roma on the vine product being sold under the Taste Buddies® line. The mini roma on-the-vine is an older tomato variety acclaimed for its taste and texture but which, for one reason or another, found itself lost in the shuffle. It has a mini Roma shape.
"The entire product line is miniature in comparison to traditional varieties and has great eye appeal on grocery store shelves as well as on the plate," points out Homenick. "These products tend to jump out at you. Their taste profile is also different - a bit sweeter and a lot more fun to use. The Taste Buddies® line has an identity of its own."

Goal is to target families, many of whom are looking for fun ways to increase their vegetable intake, he says.
"You can't turn on the TV or radio or pick up a newspaper today without hearing or reading about the need to develop healthier eating habits," adds Gray, "particularly the younger generation. These Taste Buddies® entries are a healthy fun, easy-to-use portable snack. And with today's society, our common test here is whether a product can pass the dashboard test. If you can't eat it in your car, people are not inclined to purchase them in the store."

For more information on the BC Hot House program, contact Gray at or Homenick at

© 2004 Columbia Publishing

>>Return to top

Empire State Conference Report

The Tomato Magazine
April 2004

Helpful Advice for Tomato and Pepper Growers

How can you maximize the quality of your tomato and pepper crops?
Dr. William J. Lamont, Jr., of Pennsylvania State University provided Eastern growers with a number of proven recommendations during this year's 2004 Empire State Fruit & Vegetable Conference. The tomato and pepper session was held Feb. 11 in Rochester, N.Y.

A professor and Extension vegetable specialist, Lamont was one of four speakers participating in the session. Others were: Eric H. Simonne, an Extension specialist at the UF/IFAS Horticultural Sciences Department in Gainsville, Fla., and Chris D. Smart and Thomas A. Zitter, both with Cornell University. Smart is an assistant professor, Department of Plant Pathology, at the NYSAES in Geneva; Zitter is a professor at the Department of Plant Pathology in Ithaca.

For the production of high quality tomatoes and peppers, the use of raised beds, plastic mulch, drip irrigation and row covers help insure successful and consistent marketable yields, Lamont said.
The use of plasticulture has a number of benefits, he added. It warms soil temperature eight to 12 degrees over bare soil; maintains or increases soil water holding capacity; reduces or eliminates weeds; maintains or increases soil tilth, and reduces or eliminates fertilizer and pesticide leaching under the bed.
Lamont then discussed the individual components of plasticulture, including raised beds, plastic mulch, row covers, low tunnels and high tunnels.

Helpful Tips
The researcher wrapped up his presentation on the use of plasticulture with the following tips for successful pepper and tomato production:
1. Use raised plastic covered beds (4 to 6 inches high) in the field compared to flat beds. This insures better warming of the soil and water and nutrient management in the field.
2. When laying plastic in the field, make sure your soil's water-holding capacity is at least 85 percent.
3. Wait at least two to three days after laying plastic mulch in the field before transplanting pepper/tomato plants through the plastic. This allows for increased soil temperatures.
4. Consider the use of a labeled herbicide broadcast over the field prior to raising beds and laying plastic mulch if the field you are using to plant tomatoes/peppers has a history of extremely high annual weed pressure or populations.
5. Use actively growing, insect-free pepper transplants that are between six and 10 weeks old from seeding for peppers and five to seven weeks for tomatoes.
6. After transplanting pepper/tomato plants through plastic mulch, monitor the soil moisture level underneath the plastic mulch with a tensiometer and maintain the moisture level by use of a drip irrigation system.
7. Monitor tomato/pepper plants for aphid and whitefly populations since they can rapidly reproduce and vector viruses to young pepper/tomato transplants and reduce total marketable fruit yield.
8. Remove the row cover or mulch from your low tunnel when flowers appear on the crown set of the pepper/tomato plants.
9. Fertigate with low levels of nitrogen (5 to 7 lbs/A) throughout the growing season.
10. Apply boron at the rate of 1 lbs/A at the pre-bloom state either through the drip irrigation system or as a tank-mix with fungicide spray.
11. To improve fruit quality, reduce the water application to your pepper/tomato crop within two weeks of the bulk harvest of fruit in the field.

Fertilizer Management Pointers
University of Florida researcher Eric Simonne made two presentations, one on the use of fresh petiole SAP testing to help determine the N and K status of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants and the second on principles of nutrient and water management for optimizing tomato, pepper and eggplant production.

"Efficient fertilizer management for fast-growing vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants is important to help assure early yield, reduce production costs and minimize adverse impacts on the environment," Simonne told the group. "Because that up to $6,000 may be invested in one acre when these crops are grown with plasticulture, a yield reduction caused by inadequate fertilizer management will result in significant economical losses. Productivity, environmental and profitability goals can be achieved together when a sound fertilization management plan has been designed and is followed."

Simonne reminded growers of the components of a fertilizer management plan: (1) soil testing and understanding the recommendations; (2) liming; (3) applying preplant fertilizer; (4) developing a fertigation schedule; (5) using foliar fertilization, if necessary; and (6) assessing the efficacy of the fertilizer program through fresh petiole analysis or tissue testing.

"Some growers still believe that soil testing is a substitute for tissue testing," he said, warning that such misconceptions "need to be corrected."

"Soil testing provides an indication of what the soil contribution in nutrients is likely to be before the crop is planted," he explained. ""Soil testing also provides a recommendation of which and how much of the essential nutrients (mostly P, K, Ca Mg and micronutrients) need to be supplied through fertilizer application. In contract, tissue testing provides a snap shot during crop growth of how healthy the plant is. Because of factors such as pH, nutrient competition and chemical precipitation, the presence of an element in the soil is no guarantee that its supply to the plant will be adequate."

Ten Important Principles
In his second presentation, Simonne reminded the group of 10 principles for developing fertilization plans and irrigation schedules:

(1) With plasticulture, think in terms of rows - and not in terms of field surface for irrigation and fertilization.
(2) Irrigation amount must reflect crop water use - no more, no less.
(3) Irrigation amount should not exceed soil water holding capacity; otherwise, water is wasted and mobile nutrients are leached.
(4) Rainfall contributes little to replenishing soil moisture - because of the plastic mulch.
(5) Monitor soil moisture level daily. This can be helpful in discovering the level of crop water stress.
(6) Keep irrigation records daily.
(7) Plants need all of the essential nutrients.
(8) Soil test and follow the recommendation.
(9) Monitor crop nutritional status with sap test or foliar analysis and discover how healthy the PET plants are.
(10) Adopt these principles and be prepared for the BMPs and TMDLS. TMDL stands for total maximum daily loads. BMPs are specific cultural practices that will help reduce load, and thereby the environmental impact of vegetable production.

Bacterial Disease Control Strategy
In his presentation, C.D. Smart of Cornell University reported that bacterial diseases and white mold were common ailments last season in many New York tomato and pepper fields. Due to wet conditions, many pathogens were able to thrive. Bacterial canker was very common in tomato fields, while white mold and some bacterial spot were seen on peppers. Bacterial speck and spot as well as early blight and late blight were also present in some tomato fields.

Control of bacterial diseases in tomato and pepper fields begins with the production of disease-free transplants, the speaker pointed out. He also made the following recommendations:

(1) Plant disease-free seed.
(2) Plant spot-resistant pepper varieties.
(3) If growing and using transplants, all greenhouse materials should be cleaned and sterilized prior to use.
(4) If trellising tomatoes, stakes should either be new or cleaned and sterilized.
(5) Adopt a three-year crop rotation away from tomatoes and peppers.
(6) Because bacterial diseases can spread by splashing water, avoid overhead irrigation.
(7) Avoid working in the crop when it is wet.

"Control measures for white mold in tomatoes and peppers are limited," Smart emphasized. "Cultural controls that increase drainage and improve air flow are recommended. Rotation to non-hosts, such as grain and sweet corn for a minimum of three years, will help reduce inoculum. However, sclerotia are long lived in the soil and spores produced by the sclerotia can become airborne and move some distance. The only product labeled for control of white mold on peppers and tomatoes in New York is Contans. This is a biological control method that contains the fungus Coniothrium minitans. This fungus has the ability to colonize and destroy sclerotia in the soil.

In his report on late blight and its control, Cornell's Thomas Zitter reported that the disease popped up in several states in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region during the 2003 season. Among the challenges today is the occurrence of new exotic and more virulent strains of P. infestans that are forcing plant pathologists to reexamine the biology of this organism. The host range has been extended to include hairy nightshade, garden petunia and bittersweet, the researcher said.

"Fortunately, our situation in North America is not as bleak as in Holland where the potato crop may require as many as 22 applications, with applications beginning as early as April," he said.

Other than late blight resistance for metalaxyl and mefenoxam, there are no fungicide resistance concerns with products currently used to control late blight, he said. Most products, however, are tank-mixed and alternated with protectant fungicides and materials with different modes of action.

Reporting on a tomato fungicide trail held last year at Freeville, N.Y., Zitter noted that there were no significant differences among the better late blight materials tested. However, exceptional control was achieved with Ranman, Reason and Tanos when alternated with protectant fungicides. Bravo, when used preventatively for late blight control, also performed well. Used alone and mixed with Dithane, Phostrol provided good foliar control for late blight. Later in the season, however, it provided less control.

© 2004 Columbia Publishing

>>Return to top


Sakata's Double Up Pepper Best Quality Fruit in Trials

The Tomato Magazine
April 2004

MORGAN HILLS, Calif.- Double Up Bell Pepper outperformed all other pepper varieties in a study conducted by the San Joaquin County Farm advisor during the summer and fall of 2003. The study evaluated fruit quality, horticultural characteristics and yield. Other Sakata varieties, including XPP 1133 and XPP 1136, were among the leading varieties for fruit quality and marketable yield.

The Bell Pepper variety evaluation trial, conducted by Bob Mullen, farm advisor, San Joaquin County, was held at Foppiano Farms in French Camp, Calif., southeast of Stockton. The trial contained 10 replicated varieties and 10 additional lines in single replication observation plots. The replicated trial of commercial standard bell pepper varieties was in a field of Baron, which was also one of the varieties replicated.

Double Up, followed by XPP 1133, was the leading variety in fruit quality, including blocky shape and good fruit wall thickness. These bell peppers were also leading varieties in yield of red or colored plus green marketable fruit.

In the observation block, XPP 1136 was among the best yielding varieties of red or colored plus green marketable fruit.

The Central Valley is a major production region for bell peppers in California. San Joaquin County produced approximately 2,300 acres of primarily bell peppers in 2003 for both fresh and processing markets. Production primarily occurs in this region during midsummer to late fall. The pepper industry requires that commercial varieties be developed for high yield potential and excellent horticultural traits.

Sakata Seed America, Inc. is located in Morgan Hill, Calif. The company provides high quality flower and vegetable seed. For trial information, or information on Sakata's products, services, or dealers, call (408) 778-7758; e-mail; or visit

© 2004 Columbia Publishing

>>Return to top


Highlights From Annual California Tomato Commission Conference

The Tomato Magazine
April 2004

Highlights of the California Tomato Commission's 18th annual conference - held in sunny Cabo San Lucas, Mexico in mid-February - included whale watching, shopping and dancing on the beach. However, here is an overview of the organization's accomplishments and other actions for 2003.

Production Recap
California's 2003 harvest began in late May, as a cool spring delayed harvest in Baja, the Desert, and southern California. Plantings were estimated to be down just slightly from 2002, with the decrease in southern California, the result of urban encroachment.

The cool weather impacted yield for much of the early harvest. The shortened season reduced shipments of mature green tomatoes by better than 10 percent. Southern California shipments lagged 2002 by better than one million cartons by season's end, due to the reduced plantings. Roma tomato shipments increased by 10 percent as growers moved away from mature green tomatoes.

By the end of the season, California production was the lowest in three years, just over 36 million cartons, compared to 40.8 million in 2002, and 37.1 million cartons in 2001.

Domestic Market Development
Retail tomato sales were generally flat, with on-the-vine, vine ripe and roma tomatoes the strongest performers. The market share for vine ripe tomatoes, up by 200 percent following the anti-dumping action, held steady in 2003.

Mature green market share continued to decline as retailers tended to adopt a uniform 3151 PLU for field round tomatoes. As a result, the true state of the market is best understood not from hard category data, but rather, from actual audits by the California Tomato Commission that confirm a continued decline in market share. The summer audit suggested that mature green tomatoes were somewhat limited to Hispanic and independent retailers.

The Commission continued its "Preferred Partnership Program," building alliances with shippers, repackers and retailers to maintain shelf space for California field tomatoes. Again, with a focus on the western U.S., individual promotional programs were developed to address the specific needs of each retail chain. These programs were accepted by chains, and represented more than 2,000 stores.

In California, retailers were very receptive to promoting the California Grown program within their produce departments. And throughout the west, the Commission's Hispanic marketing programs were enthusiastically accepted, with a growing number of large stores being targeted for promotional opportunities. These Latino program elements will continue to expand throughout the U.S. during 2004. Educational audits and technical training seminars also played a significant role in the Commission's marketing schedule.

The foodservice market has seen continued expansion, despite warnings of lost revenues due to current economic conditions, growing by more than four percent per year for the last three years. During the last year, the nation's expanding waistline made headlines, and fast food restaurants rapidly began replacing some of their less healthy fare with more low-fat and low-carb alternatives.

In 2003, the Commission worked with targeted foodservice operators and corporate restaurant chain decision-makers to develop relationships, and initiate specialized promotions and menu placement opportunities. Education was also a central part of maintaining growth for California tomatoes in the foodservice sector; technical audits and handling seminars continued on an individualized basis, as well as during PMA's Fresh Produce Academy.

Since 2001, the Commission has continued its partnership with the Buy California Marketing Agreement, helping to promote the benefits of buying locally grown agricultural products. Research shows that the effort is working. A new study commissioned by BCMA conducted in September 2003 showed that of those surveyed, 61 percent were familiar with the California Grown message, and that 78 percent of women, and 78 percent of Hispanics, recalled seeing the television commercials and are more favorably disposed toward products grown in California. Retail acceptance of the program also continues to expand, with every major retailer in the state joining in promotional efforts to identify California products both in store and in their ad pages.

Studies also show the economic importance of buying locally grown products becoming important educational and marketing tools. For example, a study at the University of California Davis illustrates an economic evaluation on the effects of buying products grown in California: Consumers spending just $1.63 per week on state-grown products would equate to over one billion dollars in annual economic activity throughout California.

The Commission's educational outreach, for the consumer and trade, continues to be a major component. In 2003, some of these activities included updating the Commission's Web site to include advice columns answering consumers' questions regarding nutrition and recipes, as well as technical storage and handling issues from the retail and foodservice sectors. Moreover, on the consumer side, the "Tito's Kids Corner" was greatly expanded, adding games and lesson plans aimed at elementary through high school teachers. More than 3,800 consumers requested the Commission's health brochure, and the site also handled more than 100 requests for retail materials, and in excess of 350 requests for foodservice information.

Direct mail information was sent to U.S. dieticians, generating the distribution of more than 46,000 pieces of nutritional information and recipes.

Export Market Development
The Commission's 2003 export market development program sought to build incremental exports to Canada, while building support for California tomatoes in Mexico to achiev3e future export growth. Though short supply and high pricing during the California season had little impact on demand for California tomatoes in Canada, decreases in other markets brought a reduction in U.S. export volumes from June-November versus the previous year.

In addition to California Tomato Commission grower funding o the export program, the Commission obtained additional funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Market Access Program totaling $414,000, bring the total export marketing dollars to $493,500.

Canada continued to be the largest export market for California tomatoes in 2003, with 83 percent of U.S. exports from June through November destined to this market. While 2003 exports for this period represent a slight volume decrease from 2002, export values increased by 27 percent and exports as a percentage of the fresh tomato crop remained stable.

The Commission's 2003 Canada-focused programs included merchandising, trade communication activities, technical assistance, retail and foodservice cooperative promotions, consumer research and public relations.
In 2003, the Commission's tomato exports to Mexico decreased as higher-priced U.S. round tomatoes were displaced by less expensive and more abundant domestic romas during California's season. However, the majority of Mexican wholesalers and retailers in northern Mexico continued stocking California tomatoes in lower volumes.

The Commission's 2003 Mexico program focused on trade education, which included a tour of California tomato growing areas and repacking facilities in several U.S. cities. This activity was complemented with trade communication activities and promotional support.

Following the discontinuance of the California Tomato Commission's program in Japan, California exports to this market were extremely limited in 2003. In addition, exports to several Central American markets persisted, although in lower volumes. The Commission will continue to pursue promotional programming in new markets as opportunities are identified.

© 2004 Columbia Publishing

>>Return to top


Creating Luck Through Strategic Planning

The Tomato Magazine
April 2004

In an effort to improve efficiency, the California Tomato Commission redefines its strategic plan on a regular. According to CTC's president Ed Beckman, the last revision was in 2001. "It (the strategic plan) was initiated at a time when we were in the midst of some turmoil and when buyer consolidation was starting to become an issue," he said. "Also, there was an onslaught of greenhouse tomatoes."

During the 15th annual conference in San Francisco, Beckman shared his opinion about CTC's challenges and opportunities; he also borrowed a quote from Mark Twain: "The reports of our demise were greatly exaggerated."

Having just experienced one of the better years for California tomatoes in 2003, Beckman feels a great deal more optimism today than in 2001. Part of that optimism is due to the cooperative efforts of industry members.

During the group's annual meeting in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico in February, Beckman posed to the 140 attendees questions that are on a lot of people's mind: "What happened in 2003, will it happen again or was it just plain luck?"

To answer those questions, Beckman cites Louis Patler's recent book titled "Trendsmart: The Power of Knowing What's Coming and What's Here to Stay!" Beckman is quick to point out that Patler's observations include the idea that good luck comes to those who seek it.

Applying this concept to the California tomato industry, Beckman explains that many experts, including, believed that CTC was experiencing a glut of tomato production in 2003 and that tomato supplies would continue below average for the foreseeable future.

Au contraire said Beckman. "Obviously, the people had not read Patler's book," he said. "They didn't understand the importance of knowing what was actually coming."

Rhetorically, Beckman asks, "Maybe 2003 was as good as it was simply because of a little bit of luck. Well, it came to those who sought it out. And we can learn from history but we cannot wait for history to repeat itself. Because luck just doesn't happen."

Strategic Plans
According to Beckman, the CTC 2001 strategic plan did not forecast the successes in 2003. It was based on facts and emerging trends, he contends. A strategic plan must be specific and contain information that is attainable. For example, Beckman looks at one of CTC's recent goals that read: Expand the Buy California Campaign into foodservice. That same goal reads like this: In 2004, Subway will introduce California select sandwiches showcasing California-grown tomatoes, lettuce and peppers, wrapped in a low-carb, California sourdough bun. "This is visualizing where our efforts should be," said Beckman. "When you take a look at the result it's not just telling you that we're going to be expanding into foodservice, but also educate the consumers as to the true value that comes from California agriculture; not just in tomatoes, but from all the produce as well."

Beckman urges all audience members to be specific with strategic planning and goal setting. "Examine your company. Do you have a destination for your company? Do you have goals or obstacles in place? Do you have a vision, something which you can touch and feel? And realize, we all have perceptions of the goals we set for ourselves."

© 2004 Columbia Publishing

>>Return to top

Tomato Herbicides: What We Have Gained, What We Have Lost and Possible Future Labels

The Tomato Magazine
April 2004

By William M. Stall
UF/IFAS, Horticultural Sciences Department, Gainesville

What We Have Gained
Several new herbicides have become available for use in tomato production. Research is still ongoing on their best use in a weed management system. Growers should check their individual labels for all instructions before use.

Matrix (rimsulfuron): Dupont has issued a supplemental label for the use of Matrix on fresh market tomatoes. At present, the pre-emergence application is for seeded tomatoes. We are working with Dupont to add a pre-transplant statement. Matrix may be applied both pre-emergence and post-emergence to tomatoes and weeds at 1-2 oz. product (025-0.5 oz. ai) in single or sequential applications. For POST (weed) applications, a non-ionic surfactant is required. Matrix may also be applied to row middles.

Sandea (halosufluron): Gowan has labeled Sandea for use in several vegetables including tomatoes. A total of two applications of Sandea may be applied as either one pre-transplant soil surface treatment at 0.5-0.75 oz. product; one over-the-top application 14 days after transplanting at 0.5-0.75 oz. product; a pre-transplant plus an over-the-top or a POST followed by a POST application of up to 0.75 oz. product. Row middle applications may be made at up to 1 oz. product. A non-ionic surfactant must be used with POST applications.

Dual Magnum (S-metolachlor): Syngenta has labeled Dual Magnum to be applied pre-plant non-incorporated to the top of pressed beds as the last step prior to laying plastic. It is also labeled for use in row middles. The rates labeled at 1.0 to 1.33 points per acre if the organic matter is less than 3 percent. Research as indicated that the 1.33 pint rate may be too high in some Florida soils except in row middles. Good results have been seen at 0.6 to 1.0 pints, especially in tank mix situations under mulch.

Goal (oxyfluorfen): Dow has labeled Goal for use as a fallow-bed treatment in several crops. Goal should be applied as surface treatment to preformed beds at 1-2 pints/A product. A 30-day treatment to planting interval must be maintained. Mulch may be applied any time during the 30-day interval.

Aim (carfentrazone): Aim is a broadleaf burn-down herbicide from FMC that has a Section 18 label for post-emergence control of emerged weeds in row middles. It is particularly effective on the control of paraquat-resistant American black nightshade. The use rate is 1 to 2 fl oz product per acre. To control grasses, it must be tank mixed.

What We have Lost
Two labels have been lost for use in tomatoes since last year. For vegetables in general, there have been several products lost. These are mostly older, seldom used products that had to be incorporated. For tomatoes the labels lost were:

Tillam (prebulate): Pebulate was scheduled for re-registration. No company registered the product for 2003 and the federal registration was canceled.

Boa (paraquat): Griffin decided to discontinue the Boa label. Paraquat is still available on tomatoes under the Gramoxone label. The affect of the label loss will be more acute in vegetables other than tomatoes where Boa had a burn down label while Gramoxone does not. The pre- and row-middle label, as well as the burn down after final harvest, is still on the Gramoxone label.

Possible Future Labels
There are a number of herbicides for which residue studies are being carried out in the IR-4 program. Potential labels for some of these may be less than a year to several years away. These are being listed for information purposes. They are:

Cobra (lactofen): Residue studies are being done for a Florida state label only. Cobra has both pre-emergence and post-emergence activity on many broadleaf weeds in row middles, especially nightshade. There was a Section 18 label for Cobra several years ago, which was lost when the whole herbicide class chemistry came under EPA review. Valent will petition EPA for a state label when the studies are completed and reviewed.

Valor (flumioxazin): Residue studies are being carried out nationally for tomato, pepper and eggplant row-middle application. Valor has both pre-emergence and post-emergence activity on many broadleaf weeds. Two years of study in row middles in south Florida has shown that Valor has excellent safety and the widest range of weed control of any of the herbicides tested. A national label probably won't be available for several years.

Envoke (trifloxysulfuron): The tolerance packaged for tomatoes has been submitted to EPA with possible tolerance establishment this year. Envoke is an excellent nutsedge herbicide, with control of many broadleaf weeds applied POST. The potential label will probably be a post-directed application to established tomatoes.

Spartan (sulfentrazone): Efficacy studies have established that tomatoes and peppers are tolerant to applications of Spartan under mulch. Also, Spartan controls nutsedges pre, to a great extent, and has good control of many broadleaf weeds in Florida. Spartan cannot be registered in Florida until the soil dissipation studies submitted by FMC are reviewed by EPA.

Goal (oxyfluorfen): Pre-transplant residue studies are under way in peppers with tomatoes to follow for reducing the pre-plant restrictions from 30 days to probably five.

Editor's Note: This report was given Sept. 3 in Naples, Fla., as part of the 2003 Florida Tomato Institute.

© 2004 Columbia Publishing

>>Return to top


Following the European Trend: Greenhouse Tomatoes Expected to Dominate the Fresh Tomato Market

The Tomato Magazine
June 2004

Greenhouse-produced tomatoes may someday dominate the fresh tomato market in the United States, according to a University of Arizona researcher.

Dr. Gene Giacomelli, professor and director of the Controlled Environment Agricultural Center at the University of Arizona, believes that if the present growth rate continues, the only major market for field-grown tomatoes in a few years may be to processors for tomato juice, tomato paste, ketchup and other processed products.

"Twenty to 25 percent of fresh market tomatoes today were grown in greenhouses," Giacomelli says. "Five years ago, I wrote a report placing the figure at six percent. That's incredible growth."
Will the greenhouse tomato industry continue to increase market share?

There's little doubt about it, the researcher believes. The question is not whether the industry will grow but how fast.

Market Dominance Possible
"Eventually, greenhouse-produced tomatoes could claim 100 percent of the fresh-market category," he says. "Europe is almost there now. Its fresh-market tomato category is completely dominated by greenhouse product. Here in the U.S., consumers, too, have begun to appreciate the consistency and quality of greenhouse tomatoes and are buying them in larger numbers than ever before."

The introduction of the cluster tomato (in different colors), super sweets, cherry tomatoes and, more recently, cocktail tomatoes are bringing variety as well as improved taste and color to the marketplace, the researcher says.

"Most exciting about this industry is its growth potential," Giacomelli points out. "The stage is set for a bright future. We're seeing young people coming into our greenhouse educational programs here at the University of Arizona. They are enthusiastic and rejuvenated about the future of high technology production agriculture."

But greenhouse tomato production today is far from regular farming, he underscores. It is high technology and requires education, training and special skill.

"We're not talking about dirt farming anymore," he smiles. "It's hydroponics, computers and a tightly controlled environment. It's beautiful aluminum structures and plants that look like they could be growing in a hospital because they are perfectly clean and neat and pest free - due to the biological controls available today."

The infrastructure and technology required to make the greenhouse tomato industry go have come together, the researcher believes, and the combination is now improving productivity and the ability to make money.

Producers have learned how to grow product virtually year-round. Eight weeks in advance of terminating the old tomato crop, workers initiate the new crop by planting small seedlings underneath the older plants. This practice, in itself, has reduced downtime, when there is no production, from a month to a month and a half down to about a week.

Trained Professionals Needed
Experienced greenhouse production companies such as EuroFresh Farms have set up shop in Arizona and are seeking young, trained professionals to step in and help them run and manage their operations, Giacomelli says.

Today, the University of Arizona is offering high-tech education in hydroponics and greenhouse production and operates a 5,000-square-foot greenhouse teaching laboratory year round to give students hands-on experience. In addition, a greenhouse crop production and engineering design short course is offered once each year to those outside of the university setting. It includes four days of intense training, including classroom instruction by academia, growers and others active in the industry. Attendees also spend time in the university's greenhouse teaching laboratory and participate in a tour of nearby commercial greenhouse facilities owned and operated by EuroFresh Farms.

The 2005 Greenhouse Crop Production and Engineering Design Short Course will take place Jan. 16-20 at the Tucson campus.

"This year, 65 people attended from as far away as Hawaii," Giacomelli notes. "Twenty-five percent were from Mexico; only a handful lived here in Arizona. We've been targeting the western U.S., as other greenhouse short courses are offered in the South and other parts of the country."

Arizona Leads the Industry
Soon to be at 240 acres, Arizona now tops the country in greenhouse vegetable crop production, according to the researcher. EuroFresh Farms has 165 acres at one site with another 45 to be added soon; it has another 20 acres at a second site. Today, there are slightly less than 900 acres of greenhouse tomatoes grown in the U.S.

Companies such as EuroFresh have truly "tamed the desert," according to Giacomelli. Utilizing as much sunlight as possible and the latest technologies available, they have learned how to help their crops survive the state's blistering temperatures and low humidity levels.

"Here in Arizona, growers are primarily using rock wool and drip fertigation systems," the researcher says. "Drippers feed each group of plants. Managers use a recycling system that picks up the drainage, tops it off with additional nutrients, when necessary, and recirculates everything. The system monitors nutrient and pH levels, adjusting both to maintain plant growth." Yearly production per acre is 10 times that of the field, and it uses four to six times less water per pound of fruit harvested.

The hydroponics system makes changing the nutrients relatively easy, Giacomelli says. Changing the electrical conductivity, or EC, to manage the needs of the plants during various growth stages and during different times of the year, also, is relatively simple.

Two types of supportive research at the University of Arizona are going on, according to Giacomelli. One focuses on environmental controls, while the other is targeted at improving productivity and fruit quality. Dr. Chieri Kobota, a professor and greenhouse plant physiologist, is focusing on improving tomato taste and quality.

"Primarily, she is experimenting with the nutrient environment. Growers have been doing a lot of work, adding nonessential salts to increase the EC at certain times of the day and then reduce it at other times," Giacomelli explains. "The goal is to help the plants grow better and produce higher quality taste. The market is demanding improved taste."

A good example is the introduction of the cocktail tomato, the researcher points out. Not a cherry tomato and nowhere near beef stake size or tomato sizes coming out of Europe, cocktail tomatoes have a strong flavor and can be very sweet. In ways, they are the same old tomato but in a new package. The greenhouse is morphing its tomato output and is turning out different shapes, sizes, flavors and colors, adding excitement to the marketplace. Even more important, such tomatoes are now available year-round, as the market demands.

Year-round Producers
"To make that this happen, is something we've been working on for a long time," Giacomelli says. "Our goal has been to take the greenhouse grower from being a seasonal, 'hit the high market,' or 'hit the market whenever you can' producer to a year-round tomato factory turning out high value fruit continuously."

Consumers are recognizing this is a different type of tomato, and, therefore, it demands a higher price, Giacomelli says. They also are displaying a willingness to pay for that added quality.
University of Arizona scientists also are looking at the environment and how it influences plant growth and, ultimately, fruit quality. They are manipulating both temperature and humidity levels inside the greenhouse.

In one study, the research team has been experimenting with changes in the salt level in the root zone, electrical conductivity and the vapor pressure deficit in the air around each plant. Certain changes influence the plant to be more vegetative and produce less fruit and more leaves; others make it more reproductive with more fruit and less leaves.

"Combining engineering and horticultural concerns, we have been documenting at what levels the combination of these two affects the plant," Giacomelli explains. "We want to know how fast the plant can change from an unbalanced, too vegetative or too reproductive scenario to a more balanced situation."

As the seasons change, so does the amount of solar radiation available. Being able to manipulate the plant helps growers maximize yields.

"Our goal is to maintain the health and vigor of the plants as long as possible," he says. "We want to keep them in balance with the sunlight available from nature. Ideally, we don't want a plant to produce a lot of fruit on the first four or five clusters and then be so depleted in its energy reserves that the next four or five clusters are smaller than desired or there is an overall reduction in the number of clusters.

"Both growers and researchers call this 'steering the plant.' We want that plant to produce a load of fruit that matches its capability, given the particular environment. And that's exciting from an engineering standpoint, because we can control the environment. We can manipulate temperatures, relative humidity and, ultimately, vapor pressure deficit, or VPD, to where the plant is most productive. Environmental control in agriculture (CEA), the new technology agriculture, can get it to produce more consistent taste and overall quality as well as the number of fruit."

© 2004 Columbia Publishing

>>Return to top


Arizona Study Shows: Temperature Levels Important During Seedling Shipments

The Tomato Magazine
June 2004

Increasing numbers of tomato growers purchase their seedlings from specialized seedling producers instead of using their own facilities to grow their own. It is especially the case for grafted seedlings that require specialized propagation techniques. While advantageous in some ways, the approach is not without its risks.

One drawback of purchasing seedlings is the risk of plant deterioration during transportation and successive delayed growth or fruit development. Trucking the seedlings from where they are grown to the various farms where they will be grown to maturity takes time and can lead to plant deterioration.

Today, however, such risk can be substantially reduced or eliminated although, thanks to recent research from Chieri Kubota and Mark Kroggel with the Controlled Environment Agriculture Program (CEAC), University of Arizona, Tucson, Ariz. In their study, "Analyses and Optimization of Long Distance Transportation Conditions for High Quality Tomato Seedlings," they found that reducing the temperature inside the transportation trailers to 12ºC from the conventional 18ºC can make all of the difference in the world.

The study was done in conjunction with Damian Solomon of EuroFresh Farms Inc., Willcox, Ariz., and Leo Benne of Bevo Farms Ltd., Milner, B.C., Canada.

Production of high quality seedlings is crucial to the success of the final crop, the researchers acknowledged. Along with planting conditions and flower development status, transportation conditions affect resulting flower abortion and delayed fruit development of the first truss. Significant yield losses and delays are often experienced.

Plant quality deteriorates quickly inside a truck when transported under darkness at ambient temperatures for a prolonged period, Kubota pointed out. An unfavorable dark storage environment induces chlorophyll loss, leaf abscission and a reduction in carbohydrate reserves. Environmental conditions during transportation can affect the quality of seedlings, including the yield and quality of the fruit produced.

Lower Temperature Important
During their research, Kubota and associates found that reducing air temperature from 18 to 12ºC inside the transportation trailers significantly improved the development of flower and fruits of the first truss. Optimizing environmental conditions is critical for successful long distance transportation of quality seedlings for fresh vegetable production in greenhouses, they stressed.
Greenhouse hydroponic growers generally prefer their tomato seedlings to be six to eight weeks old and 15 to 20 cm in height.

The University of Arizona study was initiated to answer feedback coming in from hydroponic growers using tomato seedlings shipped in from outside sources. They reported an ongoing challenge with abnormal first truss development (1) when seedlings were transplanted with well-developed first flower truss; (2) when they were inter-planted into shady internal rows; and (3) when seedlings were transported during the summer.

In addition to a carbohydrate loss during transportation at the conventional 18ºC temperature, accumulation of ethylene inside the trailers remained as a possible cause of flower abortion. Ethylene generally promotes flower thinning. However, evidence of greater incidence of abnormal first truss development when seedlings were planted in shady internal rows suggested the problem was more related to changing carbohydrate status during transportation, combined with the effects of greenhouse environments before and after transportation, Kubota said.

In their studies, the researchers noted that upon transplant, no notable visible differences were observed between seedlings transported at 18 and 12ºC. After four weeks from transplanting, however, many seedlings transported at 18º C showed either aborted or delayed fruit development in the first truss. The incidence of either abortion or delayed fruit development was 95 percent, and the number of flower buds that exhibited abnormal development was 2.1 ± 0.31 per truss for 18ºC transportation, significantly greater than for 12ºC transportation, the researcher explained. Such abnormal development was typically seen in the peduncle closer to the stem, suggesting that these old flower buds, relatively large in size and visible at the time of transplanting, were negatively impacted by transportation.

Transportation tests conducted showed that lowering temperature inside the trailers to 12ºC significantly reduced the incidence of abnormal first truss development, Kubota said. Separately conducted experiments suggested that lowering temperature during transportation maintained the photosynthetic and growth capacity of tomato seedlings and prevented fruit development delay.
The number of normal fruits per truss was not significantly different between 18 and 12ºC transported plants, although the plants shipped at a temperature of 18ºC were planted five days earlier than plants shipped at 12ºC temperature, she said.

"This indicates that transportation at 18ºC caused significant delay in first harvest and therefore loss of annual yield," Kubota said.

Optimizing transportation conditions can open new windows of opportunity for tomato seedling producers, the researcher said. Seedlings can be shipped longer distances without jeopardizing their performance in the greenhouse. Such seedlings can be used to help meet growing world-wide market demand, filling orders both locally as well as much further away.

© 2004 Columbia Publishing

>>Return to top

NationFresh™: Market Alliance Off to a Fast Start

The Tomato Magazine
June 2004

Launched less than two year ago, NationFresh™ is well on its way to becoming a superpower in the tomato industry, supplying major retailers and foodservice clientele all across the United States.
"For a 16-month-old company, we're excited about what's happening. We've already captured a significant market share and are far past our expectations for this early in the history of the business," says Steven Phipps, national director of sales and marketing.

With its national sales and marketing office in Springfield, Mo., NationFresh involves a nationwide group of successful packers and repackers; Esformes family-owned growing operations in Palmetto, Florida (Pacific Tomato Growers), Tracy, Calif. (Triple E) and Mexico (CalRoy Pacific); and other growers supplying packing house partners for years.

680 Years of Experience
"Those involved in this marketing alliance have a combined history of 680 years in the tomato business," Phipps points out. "From this huge resource, we are able to offer our customers pretty much any type of tomato, from traditional beef steak varieties grown in the field to vine-ripes, cherry tomatoes and other types grown in hot houses."

The idea for beginning NationFresh™ came out of a strategic planning session in 2002 in Norfolk, Iowa. Gathered were executives from Capital City Fruit to discuss ways to survive the growing consolidation trends taking place in the produce industry. They were wrestling with how to compete with national companies supplying huge retailers such as Wal-Mart, Albertsons and Krogers as well as foodservice distributors such as Sysco.

"Whether with price or specs, there are times when a regional tomato supplier is at a disadvantage competing against those offering national or nationwide contracts," Phipps pointed out. "These chains don't want to manage 12 or 15 different regional tomato repackers when they can go to one source and tie up all of their needs there."

Determined to retain or expand market share, the original vision for NationFresh was birthed. Soon, the organizers began recruiting member affiliates and the team to run the company. Phipps was hired from Combs Produce Co., a 48-year-old produce company in Dallas, Texas, to manage national sales and marketing. It took about two years to put everything together. NationFresh™ was formally organized as an LLC in December 2002.

"The biggest portion of our membership is tomato repackers," Phipps says. "In bringing growers and repackers together like we've done, we're able to provide a system-wide offering. We can guarantee consistent product specs, pricing, food safety programs and other advantages. Thus far, it's been a good ride."

Proven Reliability Important
To become affiliated with NationFresh™, member companies have to have demonstrated integrity in their ability to deliver high quality product capable of meeting industry specs. Each company has its own grower base, proven and reliable over many years. It also must be like-minded in its commitment to the alliance and have a history of paying its bills on time.
How does the system work?

All sales are generated at the Springfield, Mo., national sales and marketing office. However, the actual orders are filled by member affiliates all across the country. The orders pour in via telephone, fax or EDI and are dispersed to member companies, wherever they may be.
"We manage and hold the gavel, so to speak, on the quality of product," Phipps stresses. "From this one location, we oversee the specs and make sure all customer service is provided."

A retailer, for example, has various options at his disposal. If he wants to do his own brand, that service is provided. If he wants a nationally recognized brand, NationFresh™ offers the well-known Birds Eye Fresh label. The company holds exclusive rights to supply Birds Eye Fresh brand tomatoes throughout the U.S. and Canada. A third option is the NationFresh™ label.

"Our 'go to market' strategy is pretty simple," Phipps explains. "We want to be the category leader. So, when we meet with a retailer such as Albertsons, Krogers or Wal-Mart, and they want everything packaged under their own brand names, we can offer that across the entire category. If they want a consumer recognized brand, we have the 75-year-old trusted Birds Eye brand available.

"If they don't want their name hung on the product and don't want the premium consumer brand, we offer our NationFresh™ brand. And in doing that, we develop whatever specs they require. Hence, they still have packaging consistency system wide, but are not marketing their own or a consumer brand."

NationFresh™ provides its own packaging for products coming out of Canada, Mexico and other domestic sources - everything from regular field-grown tomato varieties to those originating in hot house or greenhouse settings.

"Many tomato repackers today commonly take a four-pack tomato and put it right back in the 25-pound shipper box it arrived in when they were buying raw product," Phipps points out. "They then forward that on to their customers. Here, we've developed common footprint, display-ready, graphics boxes for every item. Instead of using the original boxes, not designed four four-pack tomatoes, we're sending the tomatoes in a 16-count, display-ready box that can go right on the shelf. Product integrity is much improved because of less handling, and you have a much more cosmetically appealing package. Overall retail labor is also reduced."

The company is committed to providing its customers with value-added products, Phipps stresses. Consumers with questions are encourage to call 1-866-FRESH4U.

Plan to Expand Product Line
While NationFresh™ management has the short-term goal of becoming the "most advanced tomato provider" in the country, over the long run it hopes to begin marketing more than just tomatoes.

"With all of these member companies, we have tremendous existing ability to distribute other produce as well," the national director of sales and marketing says. "Ninety percent of our membership handles more than just tomatoes, and we already have full distributors in many major cities. To begin supplying other fruits, vegetables and services would not be that difficult."
Phipps can be reached by e-mailing him at, attention Steve, or by calling (417) 864-6335 or (866) FRESH4U.

© 2004 Columbia Publishing

>>Return to top


Preventing Blossom End Rot

The Tomato Magazine
June 2004

By Arlene Jacobs

Tomatoes and peppers, in particular, need adequate calcium levels to prevent Blossom End Rot (BER). But prevention isn't simply a matter of adding calcium. Calcium and boron need to be in the proper ratio and in adequate concentrations to have proper fruit set of all fruiting crops, warns David St. John of Plant Food Co. Inc.

Quality results are being reported by growers using Agri 6-0-8. The product has been shown a decrease BER in tomatoes and peppers with a resultant yield increase due to less fruit loss in the field. All say the firmer fruit witnessed with the use of the Agri 6-0-8 appears to be related to the amount of calcium provided.

David Wuillermin, a plum tomato and bell pepper grower, changed his fertilizer regimen over this past season to Agri 6-0-8. "I wanted something that would give the whole fertilizer in one application," Wuillermin explained.

The advantages of using Agri 6-0-8 for trickle fertigation are many, according to St. John. Among them, it is the only liquid fertilizer containing calcium, sulfur, magnesium and all common micronutrients in one clear product. The only other liquid fertilizer containing nitrogen, potash and calcium has only those three elements, thus the grower must add all other elements as a separate fertigation after flushing his lines and equipment. The reason, he explains, is common forms of calcium, sulfur and magnesium are not compatible.

With this new regimen there have been less rejects and culls, notes Wuillermin. Quality, color, firmness and fruit size are all much improved. Overall, the plants are healthier and experience reduced disease problems.

Calcium is most effectively utilized by the plants when taken up, along with other nutrients, by the roots. Delivering it via irrigation in the root zone allows for optimum uptake. Calcium, as supplied by the 6-0-8 liquid fertilizer, is readily available for utilization.

Tomatoes, in particular, have a tendency to experience magnesium deficiencies, St. John points out. This is due to attempts to provide adequate levels of calcium in the soil to help prevent BER. The 6-0-8 supplies magnesium in adequate amounts as well.

"It's been my experience that most growers do not need to supplement their fertility program while using 6-0-8," St. John advises.

With 6-0-8, no multiple applications are needed, Wuillermin agrees. Everything needed is accomplished with one feeding, and it doesn't clog the drip line.

As during previous years, testing of the grower's fields indicated no increase in salt levels, and nutrient levels remained constant. Wuillermin only needed to alter the calcium levels once. The product, he added, was easy to handle and worked well.

While initially costing "a little more," Wuillermin says his investment was well worth it due to the amount of time saved. But, more importantly, fruit yields and quality were both better.

"I didn't have to do multiple applications of fertilizers, and no foliar applications were required to regulate the nutrient levels," the grower smiles.

When using "generic" fertilizer, Wuillermin says he always had to guess when to add additional nutrients, such as nitrogen or calcium.

"The cost might scare some people away, but they should give it a try," he counseled. "What you put in is usually what you get out. But with this product, what you get out is much more than what you put in."

Information for this article was provided by Yara North America, formerly Hydro Agri North America. For more information e-mail

© 2004 Columbia Publishing

>>Return to top

BC Hot House Foods Inc. Launches Sweetooth®Peppers

The Tomato Magazine
June 2004

Sweetooth® Sweet Peppers are now available in both retail and foodservice customers, according to a recent news release from BC Hot House Foods Inc., Surrey, B.C. Sweetooth® Peppers are a complementary product to the expanding BC Hot House Sweet Bell Pepper product line.
BC Hot House Sweetoothâ Peppers are unique in size, shape and taste. As indicated by Dawn Gray, vice president of marketing at BC Hot House Foods, the product is new and a unique addition to the sweet pepper category.

"Sweetooth® Peppers look unlike any other product in the produce section," Gray says. "They are long and cone-shaped. Not to be mistaken with hot peppers, these items are extremely sweet. They have a brix level of +9.0 - significantly sweeter than Sweet Bell Peppers which generally have +6.0 brix."

Taste is only part of the satisfaction that this product delivers, according to Gray. Sweetooth® Peppers are extremely easy to use. Because they have a tiny seed cap, they are convenient to use in the kitchen. Cutting the pepper width-wise yields ready-to-serve-and-cook rings in seconds. Individual Sweetooth Peppers measure approximately 8 ½ inches in length and 2 ½ inches in diameter.

There are two bright colors of BC Hot House Sweetooth® Peppers, red and yellow. They are packed in an attractive two-pack cello bag (eight units per box), and can be displayed either alongside bagged salads or Sweet Bell Peppers. The packaging creates additional benefits to both the retailer and the consumer.

"The cello bag bundles volume together to increase net purchase weight and triggers a higher ring for the retailer," says Gray. It also provides the retailer with extended product shelf life in lieu of product being sold as loose, bulk product. Suggested retail price is $3.03 per unit.

BC Hot House Foods Inc, Surrey, Canada, is a world leader in the hydroponically grown produce industry. Founded in 1973 as the Western Greenhouse Growers Co-op, it was incorporated in 1997 as BC Hot House Foods Inc. To learn more about BC Hot House, visit

© 2004 Columbia Publishing

>>Return to top



Fresh Market Tomatoes

Foodservice, Hispanic Segments Prefer Field-grown

The Tomato Magazine
August 2004

How important are field-grown, fresh-market tomatoes, and will they continue to enjoy a commanding market share?

Very important, according to distributors servicing the foodservice industry, and, yes, a dominant niche for field- versus greenhouse-grown tomatoes is projected for the foreseeable future.

After publishing a feature article, "Greenhouse Tomatoes Expected to Dominate the Fresh Tomato Market," in the June issue of this magazine, the editors were reminded that not everyone agrees with the conclusion made by Dr. Gene Giacomelli, quoted in the article. A professor and director of the Controlled Environment Agricultural Center at the University of Arizona, Giacomelli noted that greenhouse-produced tomatoes currently account for 25 percent of fresh market tomato sales and, in time, are expected to dominate total U.S. fresh market tomato sales as has been the case in Europe.

Some Prefer Field-grown
There are market segments, the foodservice industry, for example, that strongly prefer field-grown, mature green and vine-ripe tomatoes over hot house-grown tomatoes, according to the California Tomato Commission. Over 50 percent of the 2003 California tomato crop, for example, was marketed into foodservice channels. Sales totaled more than $200 million.

Firm tomatoes are required for chopping, dicing and slicing, and the foodservice segment, in particular, has shown no indications of changing its preferences for field-grown tomatoes, the Commission notes.

Field-grown, round tomatoes are the tomatoes of choice for most foodservice operators, according to Eric Jahnke, vice president and COO of DiMare Fresh, Dallas, Texas. The reason, he explains, is foodservice operators find it easier to control their yield costs per tomato and master carton. Gas-green tomatoes are firmer in texture. Fast food operators serving hamburgers, for example, are better able to calculate how many slices they can cut per tomato.

Field tomatoes may not be as cosmetically friendly as their greenhouse produced cousins, but, in terms of the yield and production, they are more cost-effective for foodservice customers, Jahnke asserts. Over the long run, foodservice operators are better able to control their food costs because of the continuity and consistent yields they get from using gas-green tomatoes.

Geoff Cooney, director of Ready Fresh Produce, Vancouver, B.C., agrees. Foodservice operators prefer the firmness of a field-grown tomato, he says. Hot house-grown tomatoes are softer and more difficult to slice. And since more than 50 percent of every dollar spent on food today is for meals eaten out, the foodservice market is very important to the field-grown tomato industry.
Owned by Gordon Food Service, Grand Rapids, Mich., Ready Fresh Produce markets entirely to the foodservice industry.

Improved Storage Capability
Most national foodservice operators request mature green, field-grown tomatoes, points out Bill Piper, general manager and tomato buyer for Grant County Foods, Dry Ridge, Ky., whose company also services the foodservice industry. One reason, he explains, is mature greens survive better under colder storage temperatures.

"We are talking here about temperature-related abuses at in-house distribution companies and broadliners," he says. "In the past, most have used only a two-compartment trailer, meaning that everything is stored in either the freezer or cooler. There have been only two choices. Tomatoes are kept in the cooler section, but the temperature is usually colder than that prescribed for tomatoes. That, of course, changes the flavor profile and expected shelf life of the product."

Significant improvements in storage handling have been made throughout the distribution system, but, at the restaurant level, there is still plenty of room for improvement, Piper explains. Most foodservice operators have limited places to store everything, so tomatoes often end up in the cooler, where temperatures generally are 40 degrees or below-less than ideal for storing tomatoes. Since hot house vine-ripes are further along in their life expectancy, they don't hold up as well as mature greens.

Given such circumstances, will field-grown, fresh-market tomatoes continue to enjoy a significant market share? Very definitely, according to Jahnke, who predicts market share patterns will change very little in the foreseeable future "unless greenhouse operators can come up with a tomato that is firm enough and has the right texture for foodservice."

Market Dominance Expected to Continue
Field-grown tomatoes will continue to account for the majority of volume and will be the driving force in the entire tomato category, Jahnke predicts.

"You may see some changes, as we've already experienced, in greenhouse-grown product on the retail side," he explains, "but that's predominantly more on the West Coast than in the Southwest and Northeast. Break down the country geographically, and certain tomatoes will command a higher market share in a particular area because of consumer preferences, but not overall."

As for flavor, past "unbiased" tomato surveys have shown many consumers have difficulty distinguishing a fully mature, field-grown round from a fully mature greenhouse tomato, he says. When placed side by side, 68 percent in one survey could not tell the difference. The view that greenhouse tomatoes taste better is "a misnomer."

Greenhouse-grown product is more cosmetically friendly, Jahnke admits, particularly cluster tomatoes. However, field-grown tomatoes also can be cosmetically correct and look great. While not always as consistent in shape, overall quality is a proven fact.

"As we shore up our end, meaning the repack and distribution side of the business, there is a bright future for field-grown tomatoes," argues Piper. "Continued educational efforts are needed to counter the widespread belief that mature greens do not have flavor."

Storage Abuses Mostly in the Past
"We have been the biggest abusers in the past, meaning repackers and distributors," he admits. "Any loss of flavor is largely due to storing product at too cool of temperatures. We are partly to blame for the feeling among consumers that field-grown tomatoes are inferior in quality-both in appearance and flavor. It is important to note, however, that, generally speaking, the course corrections have been made, and such abuses are largely a thing of the past. As we work with consumers, we have an opportunity to clearly demonstrate that as long as everything is handled correctly at all levels, they can experience good quality and flavor with field-grown tomatoes."
The challenge now is to better educate consumers how to store tomatoes at home.

"Even though a lot of information is available warning homemakers not to refrigerate tomatoes, most coming home from the supermarket continue to place their tomatoes in the refrigerator versus leaving them to sit on their counters. We still have a lot of educational work to do."
Cooney agrees with Piper that temperature abuses associated with storing tomatoes at the repacker and distributor level is largely in the past. Mature greens stored at the Ready Fresh Produce facilities near Vancouver, for example, are kept at 50 to 44 degrees. Room temperatures during rolling and grading are in the 50- to 52-degree range.

"We are a lot smarter in the way we handle tomatoes today," he smiles, "but improvements continue to be needed, especially on the foodservice end. Visit fast food restaurants, as I often do, and many are still storing their tomatoes in a cooler. They do it because they are told to, and their quality control people are really not up to speed. It is very important that we get the message across that no tomato will taste good if it is stored in a cooler or refrigerator. We have an on-going responsibility to educate. As these people respond and change their habits, many are realizing that there is good flavor coming out of field-grown tomatoes."

Jahnke points out that while greenhouse-grown tomatoes tend to be more cosmetically correct, they, too, are not immune to the influences of Mother Nature.

When cloudy and overcast outside, which sometimes is the situation, tomato plants inside greenhouses fail to receive enough sun light for the fruit to fully mature. This, too, can lead to imperfect product.

Competition within the tomato category is not all bad, the foodservice provider believes. Enhancing tomato category offerings at retail benefits every segment, whether field-grown rounds, romas and grape tomatoes or greenhouse-grown clusters and beefsteaks, he says. They all contribute to the overall health of tomato category, boosting sales all across the board.

Hispanic Market Prefers Field-grown
A second important target group for field-grown tomatoes is the growing Hispanic market, according to a 2001 study conducted in the Los Angeles area by the California Tomato Commission. Los Angeles is the third largest Latino city in the world. Only Mexico City and Buenos Aires have a larger Latino population.

Two hundred telephone interviews with Hispanic consumers were conducted. In addition, 25 retail outlets were interviewed to obtain directional information only. The grocery stores questioned sell fresh tomatoes, and over half of their customer base is Hispanic. The persons involved in the questioning were primarily, or jointly, responsible for making decisions about which fresh tomatoes the stores sell and how they market those tomatoes.

The study showed Los Angeles Hispanic consumers prefer regular and roma tomatoes that are medium or light red in color, are firm and harder as opposed to soft (for ease of chopping, dicing and slicing) and are medium- or hand-sized. The study also showed Hispanics prefer field-grown tomatoes over those grown in commercial hot houses.

Tomatoes are an important and regular component of the typical Latino family's diet. Fresh tomatoes and canned or processed tomatoes are both consumed over 3.6 times per week by more than 70 percent of the population.

Interestingly, the study showed that the majority of Los Angeles Hispanic consumers don't know or care where (what state or country) their fresh tomatoes are grown. Of those questioned that referenced a preference, there was a very slight or nominal preference for Mexican fresh tomatoes over those grown in California but not due to characteristics of the tomato. Some Hispanic consumers simply showed a preference for products that reflect their heritage.

Survey Findings
The following are detailed findings from the survey:
  • Hispanic people prefer regular/round (86 percent) or roma (73 percent) fresh tomatoes.
· 56 percent of grocers sell hot house tomatoes, but only 4 percent of L.A. Hispanic consumers want to buy them.
  • LA Hispanic consumers generally do not like hot house tomatoes because they are perceived to be: too expensive; too soft (a poor quality for chopping, dicing and slicing); too red; or spoil too quickly.
  • LA Hispanic consumers shop for groceries differently than non-LA Hispanics consumers. For LA Hispanic consumers the grocery shopping experience is a family, and even family and neighbor, affair. Whole families go out for a substantial part of the day to purchase groceries and do most of their week's shopping.
  • Locational convenience is an important component in deciding where they purchase fresh tomatoes.

  Because they typically shop for fresh tomatoes once per week and use them all through the week, "shelf life," or how quickly they spoil, may be important.

· While most LA Hispanic consumers have some or excellent English language capabilities, they show a preference for grocery stores where employees speak Spanish (or Spanish and English) and where in-store signage and advertising is in Spanish (or Spanish and English).
In deciding which fresh tomatoes to purchase, the survey showed the following six decision-making factors ranked in order of importance: (1) price - 86 percent; (2) color - 73 percent; (3) hardness, firmness for cutting of slicing - 62 percent; (4) shape -47 percent; (5) size - 39 percent; and (6) flavor - 26 percent. Both grocers and consumers named the same six decision-making factors in the same order of frequency.

One area of difference, as pointed out by the study, is that 56 percent of grocers interviewed sell hot house tomatoes, but only 4 percent of LA Hispanic consumers expressed interest in buying them.

On the other side of the coin, a 2004 consumer survey, also funded by the California Tomato Commission, showed that many non-Hispanic shoppers are undecided ahead of time of which tomatoes to purchase. Their decisions are based on how the tomatoes look at the point of purchase.

One conclusion is there is a place for good looking field tomatoes at retail. While many non-Hispanics may make their purchasing decisions on the spot, most are looking for a good, round field tomato for their hamburgers, just as Hispanics are looking for a certain tomato for their specific uses. Ideally, there needs to be a tomato for every preference at the retail level.

© 2004 Columbia Publishing

>>Return to top

Florida Tomato Update

Produce Departments: Tomato Contribution Growing

The Tomato Magazine
August 2004

With an average national contribution of more than 7.2 percent to total produce department dollar sales, the tomato category packs a powerful punch for the produce department. This season over last, the tomato category experienced significant dollar growth, with an increase of 8.7 percent nationally - especially significant when compared to the total produce department dollar growth of 6.6 percent.

Further, in the Southeast, the tomato category experienced an 11.6 percent increase in dollar growth, compared to a dollar growth of 9 percent for the total produce department. These figures underscore the importance of the tomato category to the produce department, in terms of future growth and sales potential.

These market trends, as well as other information, including recent consumer research supporting strong consumer preference for USA Grown Florida tomatoes and scanner data showing that field (round) tomatoes are driving the category, are continually circulated to Florida Tomato Committee's retail partners.

A closer look at sales activity in each region through March 2004 is available in the following two reports, National Category Review: Tomato Market Share and National Category Review: Tomato Movement. Consider these facts:

• In the Southeast, field tomatoes gained category market share lost the prior year. Field tomatoes increased 5.5 percent over last year, with a dollar share increase of 5.3 percent. Last season (2002-2003), field tomato category market share was down 4 percent, from prior year.
• The overall tomato category in the Southeast experienced a 13.8 percent increase in pounds moved per store, per week. Contributing greatly to this increase was the field tomato subcategory with a 25.4 percent increase in pounds (81 pounds) moved per store on a weekly basis, and a 23.5 percent increase in sales dollars. At the same time, TOVs (tomatoes on the vine) in the Southeast increased 27.5 percent (19 pounds) per store on a weekly basis. Hothouse beefsteak tomato movement decreased 26.7 percent.

• In the Northeast, tomato movement at retail was gained only by cherry/grape with an 18.4 percent increase in pounds, and in field tomatoes with a 2.7 percent pound per store increase. While at the same time, TOV movement experienced a slight decrease of 1.3 percent.
· In the Midwest, Field tomato movement at retail increased 27.6 percent.

© 2004 Columbia Publishing

>>Return to top

Effect of Oxygen Enrichment in the Root Zone on Tomato Crops

The Tomato Magazine
August 2004

By Dr. Lynette Morgan
SUNTEC International Hydroponic Consultants

Tomato growers have long focused on the effects of plant nutrition, water status and the aerial environment on crop growth and yields. To optimize plant performance, greenhouse tomato producers often use technology such as carbon dioxide enrichment, heating, lighting, temperature and humidity control. While commercial tomato crops generally end up being provided with just about all they require for maximum fruit production, one vital aspect is often overlooked: oxygen in the root zone.

Most growers are aware that the tomato plant's root system requires oxygen for the process of respiration. Root respiration is an essential plant process which releases the energy required for root growth. This, in turn, affects the absorption of minerals from the soil or nutrient solution. Healthy roots, supplied with sufficient oxygen, are able to selectively absorb nutrient ions from the surrounding soil solution as required. The metabolic energy required to drive this process of ion uptake is largely obtained from root respiration, which, in turn, is inhibited by oxygen starvation. In fact, there can be a net loss of nutrient ions from anaerobic root systems.

Oxygen in the Root Zone
In soil-grown tomato crops, plant roots obtain oxygen in two ways: (1) through the air-filled pores (oxygen is present) between the soil particles and (2) from the plant roots as they come in contact with moisture in the soil (falling moisture or irrigation). In soil-less, or hydroponic, systems, the principle of oxygenation of the root zone is similar. Dissolved oxygen can be present in the nutrient solution provided to the plant roots and also in the air-filled pores of the growing media. In solution culture, the roots have access to both dissolved oxygen in the nutrient solution and can also obtain oxygen directly from the moist air surrounding the upper layers of root system.

Many variables are known to influence how much oxygen is available to the root system, including field factors such as compaction, soil type and structure, amount of humus, moisture content (a saturated soil holds little plant available oxygen), the microbe populations present and, importantly, the amount of dissolved oxygen present in irrigation water.

The further from the soil surface measured, oxygen levels in soil tend to rapidly decrease. Microbes also compete with plant root systems for oxygen within the soil. Oxygen replacement around the root zone becomes important for crops grown intensively under warmer conditions when the demand for oxygen becomes much greater. Figures for oxygen requirements for mature tomato plants vary with temperature: at 10o C (50º F), root zone temperature, the plant will require approximately 46 mg plant-1 h-1 of oxygen. At 20o C (68º F), this would be 92 mg plant-1 h-1 oxygen, and at 30o C 86º F), it is over 184 mg plant-1 hour-1 of oxygen required by the root zone to maintain normal growth and yields.

When these figures are multiplied by the density of the crop being grown, they represent a large increase in the oxygen requirement (as the temperature and, hence, potential growth rate rises). Therefore, it is not uncommon for tomato crops growing in both soil and soil-less systems to suffer from oxygen depletion, particularly under warmer growing conditions. Often this happens as the plants mature and begin to fruit - when the roots' oxygen requirements reach a peak. While many growers are aware of the importance of root aeration to prevent oxygen depletion, few realize that providing high level of oxygen to the root zone will have a further beneficial effect on tomato crops.

Studies carried out on soil-grown tomato crops found that a reduction in tomato top dry matter occurs when the oxygen concentration of the soil is decreased from 21 to 6.5 or 1.5 percent. In fact this reduction was in the magnitude of 26 and 93 percent, respectively. Another study found a 67 percent reduction in tomato shoot growth when oxygen is reduced from 21 to 3.5 percent; it also showed that low levels of soil oxygen can cause stomatal closure, even at optimum matrix potentials.

In soil-based trials, it also has been found that plant growth, in general, increases with higher oxygen levels in the soil. Furthermore, a substantial amount of research has shown that aeration or oxygenation conditions influence ion accumulation and content of plant tissue. Much of this work has been carried out in solution in sand cultures, but similar work in soils has shown that this response is true for just about all root mediums.

In soil-less systems, where root volume is limited, oxygenation in the root zone has the potential to become one of the major factors determining plant performance, overall health and yield, but it is often overlooked by soil-based and hydroponic producers for many crops. This is unfortunate as many studies have shown that by super saturating the root zone with oxygen, plant performance can be enhanced in much the same way that carbon dioxide enrichment boosts photosynthesis and yields.

With the soil or nutrient solution typically holding only relatively small amounts of dissolved oxygen at saturation (in the range 4 -13 ppm, depending on temperature), this is depleted rapidly with an actively growing crop. The best way to combat this oxygen depletion and boost oxygen levels in the root zone is to super saturate the irrigation water/nutrient solution with oxygen so that fresh supplies of dissolved oxygen are applied to the plants on a regular basis. This needs to be at a level high enough to alleviate any oxygen depletion and boost growth, development, mineral uptake and overall plant health.

Tomato Plants and Oxygen Enrichment
Many studies into the effect of oxygen enrichment on tomato growth have been carried out in soil-less systems, however, the results are also relevant to soil-grown tomato crops. Previous studies have found that when the root systems of tomato seedlings were subjected to dissolved oxygen levels in the range 1 - 8 ppm, the growth of the plants at 1 -2 ppm O2 was inferior to that at higher dissolved oxygen values irrespective of the solution temperature [range 22 - 30o C (71-86º F)]. When the effect of super saturation with oxygen was also examined by growing tomato plants at nutrient solution oxygen concentrations of 5, 10, 20 or 40 ppm O2, it was found that with 10 - 20 ppm oxygen shoot growth was better and flower clusters were heavier and had more florets than with other concentrations.

Main root and total root lengths and the number of root hairs, length of root hairs and length of the root hair zone in the area around the root top were greatest at 10 - 20 ppm O2. Root hair growth above this region was better at 20 or 40 ppm oxygen enrichment. It was also found that the photosynthetic rate and root respiration increased with increasing oxygen concentration. This indicates that oxygen levels well above natural saturation levels (above 10 ppm) benefit the growth and development of tomato plants.

In a series of studies at Meiji University in Japan, it was found that super saturation of a hydroponic nutrient solution with dissolved oxygen promoted the uptake of phosphate and also increased plant height, fresh weight of stems and leaves and root weight of tomato plants grown under low nitrogen and phosphate conditions. It also increased the phosphorus concentration in the sap, stems, leaves and fruits of the tomato plants. it has also been reported that rates of uptake of nitrogen, phosphate, potassium and water were higher in tomato plants grown in aerated (high levels of dissolved oxygen) solutions.

Oxygen and Calcium Uptake - BER in Tomato Crops
Oxygen deficiencies within the root zone have long been linked to a higher occurrence of blossom end rot (BER) in hydroponic fruit. Since BER can result in a high percentage of fruit rejected as marketable in many crops, this is an important disorder to understand and prevent. The main plant nutrient most affected by a lack of oxygen in the root zone is calcium (Ca). Unlike the other major nutrients, Ca is absorbed primarily through unsuberized root apices (growing tips). The root apex has a large energy requirement for new cell production and growth and is, therefore, vulnerable to oxygen stress. If an increasing number of root apices begin to suffer from an oxygen deficiency, a shortage of calcium in the shoots becomes more likely. This makes the development of calcium disorders such as BER more likely and severe under oxygen depletion conditions. Thus boosting oxygen levels in the root zone will assist with Ca transportation and the prevention of BER, particularly under plant stress conditions predisposing tomato crops to developing this condition.

Researchers have found that leaf Ca concentrations are lowest in tomato fruit grown in hydroponics systems without oxygen supply by day. It was also found that the BER incidence of tomatoes in water culture is highest when oxygen supply to the roots is stopped at night. From this study, it was concluded that oxygen deficiency of roots seems to be an important factor that determines the occurrence of BER in hydroponically grown tomato fruit; however this is also likely to be just as applicable to field-grown crops.

Oxygenation and Pepper (Capsicum) Crops
The benefits of oxygen enrichment of the irrigation water/nutrient solution are not limited to tomato crops. In a study carried out by researchers at California State University, it was found that when irrigation water was injected with 12 percent air by volume and applied to soil-grown bell pepper crops, a 33 percent increase in bell pepper count and a 39 percent increase in total weight were obtained. The dry weight measurement of the root and shoot mass indicated a statistically significant increase in weight for plants receiving aerated water as compared to plants receiving water only (1). These results indicate increases in dissolved oxygen of nutrient solutions in hydroponic systems such as NFT. These benefit crop growth and irrigation water/fertigation solutions in both soil-based and soil-less production systems.

Oxygen in the Root Zone and Pathogens
Attack by root rot pathogens in tomato crops can occur both in the field and in soil-less production systems; however, in most cases, these diseases are opportunist and will only infect and destroy already weakened root tissue. Studies have found that after inoculation with Pythium, oxygen enriched roots continued to remain healthy. In contrast, plants grown in low oxygen treatments began to show the typical signs of root decay and infection within six days of inoculating with Pythium.

The results from this study clearly demonstrate that oxygen concentration in the root zone has a significant effect upon the development of Pythium root rot of tomato plants and that colonization of roots by the fungus could be reduced by root zone oxygen enrichment. It was also found that in addition to increased severity of root rot, low and moderate oxygen levels resulted in a significant reduction of root and shoot growth of tomato plants, regardless of Pythium infection. Similar results have been found for infection in both hydroponic systems and soil with Phytophthora root rot. Again, these results indicate that low oxygen can predispose root systems to diseases caused by root rot pathogens and that high levels of oxygen around the root zone ensure a healthy root system which can resist attack by opportunist pathogens.

Oxygen Enrichment in the Root Zone - Recent Trials with Tomato Crops
Super saturation of irrigation water or nutrient solutions in hydroponic production with high levels of dissolved oxygen can be achieved with use of various technologies, few of which, in the past, have been practical for commercial crop production. However, recent New Zealand studies on tomato crops have shown that high levels of oxygen enrichment can be achieved with the use of some American-based technology. Microdiffusion Inc. of Texas (2) has developed a unique process of supersaturating water with dissolved oxygen - up to 40 ppm levels. Furthermore, this technology allows the oxygen to remain in solution for many days (rather than dissipating off into the atmosphere), making it a good prospect for horticultural production. Having been long proven in the turf industry where oxygen enriched irrigation water has vastly improved grass health and growth rates, the application is being made to more areas of horticulture.

Recent tomato crop trials using the Microdiffusion technology to enrich irrigation water fed to tomatoes grown in rockwool with a drip irrigation system showed promising results. With the enriched irrigation solution maintaining a dissolved oxygen level of at least 22 ppm applied at the plant base, control solutions which maintained ambient O2 levels in solution where often no more than 5 ppm at the dripper, even at quite moderate solution temperatures of 22 - 24o C (71-75ºF). This has potential to lead to oxygen deficiency in the root zone, given the limited nature of the rooting media and high requirement for oxygen by the root systems. Although rockwool grow slabs do initially have a high air filled porosity, the volume of roots at plant maturity, combined with the limited nature of the root zone (often 3 - 4 plants per slab), mean that low levels of oxygen (as low as 10 percent) have been recorded in the lower regions of rockwool slabs and propagation blocks.

Supplying high levels of dissolved oxygen via the irrigation system on a frequent basis assists in preventing oxygen depletion. This is particularly true during the warmest part of the day. This also provides additional oxygen levels above what would normally be present in a well aerated growing medium.

The results of this trial produced an increase in the average tomato fruit size from 108 g (s.e 2.58) per fruit in the control, non-enriched treatment, to 139 g (s.e 2.65) per fruit from the oxygen enriched irrigation regime. Furthermore, when fruit quality assessment was carried out, it was found that the oxygen-enriched plants produced fruit with a higher brix and percentage dry weight than the control or non-enriched plants. Oxygen- enriched plants produced an average brix level of 5.8 (s.e 0.13) compared to 5.07 (s.e 0.05) in the non-enriched control plots. Percentage dry matter in the fruit increased from 4.2 (s.e 0.392) in the control, non-enriched plants to 4.8 (s.e 0.33) in the oxygen-enriched plants. This indicates that by boosting oxygen levels in the root zone, fruit size (hence, total yield) as well as the compositional quality of the fruit is improved significantly.

When a similar trial was carried out to examine the effect of oxygen enrichment of the irrigation solution on BER occurrence of tomato crops, it was found that enrichment of the solution to 20 - 22 ppm of dissolved oxygen applied several times a day to rockwool-grown tomato crops resulted in a significant reduction of BER occurrence. Tomato plants irrigated with oxygen enriched nutrient solution had less than 1 percent BER occurrence; the control plants, irrigated with non-enriched nutrient, had over 7 percent BER occurrence throughout the trial, much of which was severe

Furthermore, these crops, purposely stressed by growing at a moderately high EC level to assist with BER development, produced a significantly higher yield from an increased fruit size in the oxygen-enriched plots. Average fruit weight increased from 82.8 g per fruit in the non-enriched, osmotically stressed plants to 113.6 g per fruit in the oxygen- enriched treatment. So it appears from these trials that oxygen enrichment of the root zone, using irrigation water or nutrient solution as a carrier of the dissolved oxygen both boosts yields and assists tomato plants to withstand and produce well under moderate levels of osmotic stress. This probably results from the plants supplied with oxygen enrichment having a root system better able to take up water and nutrients while under osmotic (or potentially other) stress conditions.

BER is a common problem in both field-grown and greenhouse tomatoes, and one which many growers battle, especially under warmer growing conditions. Its occurrence has often been attributed to certain environmental conditions such as high temperatures, high humidity levels, high EC or salinity in the root zone, deficient irrigation, root disease pathogens and nutrient imbalances which restrict nutrient uptake and transpiration problems within the plant. BER is well known to be linked to plant root water uptake, as calcium, (the contributing factor in BER occurrence) travels within the xylem vessels or transpiration stream within the plant. Thus oxygen enrichment in the root zone, which assist with both water and nutrient uptake (particularly calcium uptake), appears to be one way to limit BER occurrence in crops prone to this problem.

Mineral analysis of the foliage of oxygen-enriched tomato crops compared to non-enriched control crops (Table 1) shows that nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, calcium and iron all increased in the plant foliage with oxygen enrichment in the root zone as compared to the control plants which received no oxygen enriched irrigation. Magnesium levels in the oxygen-enriched plants are likely to be lower than the control (non-oxygen-enriched plants) as there is an inhibitory effect on magnesium uptake when high levels of potassium are accumulated in the foliage (oxygen-enriched potassium levels are higher than the control).

Table 1 - foliar mineral levels from oxygen enriched and non-enriched tomato crops.
Element Oxygen enriched Control Treatment (non enriched)
Nitrogen (%) 4.7 4.5
Phosphorus (%) 0.70 0.54
Potassium (%) 5.7 4.7
Sulphur (%) 2.8 1.4
Calcium (%) 4.03 2.71
Magnesium (%) 0.45 0.57
Sodium (%) 0.06 0.06
Iron (mg/Kg) 133 131
Table 1. shows that calcium levels are much higher in the oxygen-enriched treatment, indicating that this treatment does have a positive effect on calcium uptake and transportation within the plant. This is also shown in the lower levels of BER, a calcium related disorder, in the high oxygen treatment.

While the results of the oxygen enrichment trial on greenhouse tomato plants are not surprising, many researchers have reported significant positive effects of super saturation of nutrient solutions or irrigation water with high levels of dissolved oxygen. This suggests that tomato plant performance can be boosted further with the use of the appropriate technology. Obtaining super saturation of oxygen within water for crop growth has proven to be highly beneficial for many crops, and the technology is now available to growers. Undoubtedly, in the future we are going to see tomatoes and other crops enriched with oxygen in the root zone in the same way carbon dioxide enrichment is commonly used in the greenhouse environment to boost growth and yields.

References and Information Sources:

(1) "A Pilot Study on the Impact of Air Injected into Water Delivered Through Subsurface Drip Irrigation Tape on the Growth and Yield of Bell Peppers;" The Centre for Irrigation Technology (CIT), California Agricultural Technology Institute (CATI), California State University. Fresno, USA.

(2) Greg Archambeau, Microdiffusion Inc., 580 Commerce Street, Suite 150, Southlake, TX 76092; phone (817) 488-4500; fax (817) 488-1900;;

A full reference list for this article can be obtained from Dr. Morgan by contacting her at

© 2004 Columbia Publishing

>>Return to top



Tomatoes Get Genetic 'Boost' Under Sustainable Ag System

The Tomato Magazine
August 2004

Tomatoes grown in a sustainable agricultural system using a legume cover crop as fertilizer had better disease resistance and lived longer than tomatoes grown on black polyethylene mulch with chemical fertilizer, Agricultural Research Service scientists report.

Based on a five-year sustainable agriculture study, the results are published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

The scientists showed that at least 10 genes in the leaves of tomatoes grown in the sustainable system were turned on longer, or "over-expressed," allowing those tomatoes to live longer than tomatoes grown on the plastic mulch. These "over-expressed" genes may respond to signals emanating from the specific ratio of nitrogen, carbon and other elements provided by the cover crop.

The researchers compared the two tomato cultivation systems at the ARS Henry A. Wallace Beltsville (Md.) Agricultural Research Center. In one system, tomatoes were grown under the traditional method of black polyethylene mulch with chemical fertilizer, a common planting regimen in the Middle Atlantic and Southeastern states.

In the other planting system, the scientists grew tomatoes in the sustainable system, in which the plants received half the chemical fertilizer and fungicide applied in the traditional system. The sustainable system relied on hairy vetch-a nitrogen-fixing legume cover crop-to provide soil nutrients and some natural leaf disease protection.

The scientists also believe the cover crop allows the tomato root system to produce increased levels of cytokinins, a class of plant hormones that delay senescence and let the plant live longer.
With the genes identified that impart disease tolerance and longevity, researchers may be able to use that knowledge to breed plants that are even more highly responsive to sustainable production systems.

The research was conducted by Autar K. Mattoo and Vinod Kumar of the ARS Vegetable Laboratory, Beltsville; James D. Anderson of the ARS Plant Sciences Institute, Beltsville; and Douglas J. Mills, now at Georgia State University, Atlanta.

© 2004 Columbia Publishing

>>Return to top