NHAES scientists conducted a three-year experiment to see how new tomato cultivars stacked up against each other.

Monday, May 4, 2015

There’s nothing quite like the taste of a sweet, juicy New England tomato during summer. For tomato growers, picking which tomatoes appeal to New Hampshire consumers and generate strong sales can be a balancing act between those that taste good, are resistant to disease, and have a high marketable yield.

With new tomato cultivars coming out every season, scientists at the NH Agricultural Experiment Station recently conducted a three-year experiment to see how new tomato cultivars stacked up against each other after being grown in a high tunnel at the Woodman Horticultural Research Farm.

NHAES researchers conduct tomato trials in a high tunnel at the Woodman Horticultural Research Farm.

“High tunnels are increasingly being used on farms. They offer a lot of benefits to vegetable production, especially tomatoes. Our experiment looked at how different cultivars of tomatoes perform in a high-tunnel environment. There are always lots of new cultivars coming out, and high tunnels are a relatively new growing environment for tomatoes compared to in the field,” said Nick Warren, ’13, the agroecology lab manager at UNH, who conducted the tomato trial as part of his graduate research at UNH.

The research results are presented in a recent issue of the journal HortTechnology in the article “Performance of High Tunnel Cultivars in Northern New England.” In addition to Warren, the study was supervised by experiment station researchers Rebecca Sideman, extension professor of sustainable horticulture production, and Richard Smith, assistant professor of agroecology.

After consulting with different New Hampshire tomato growers, the researchers chose a number of cultivars to test. They were particularly interested disease resistance, market yield, and taste.

“Our results suggest that several of the tomato cultivars examined in the study may be well suited for high-tunnel production in the northeastern United States,” Warren said. In particular, researchers found that when it comes to diseases like powdery mildew and leaf mold, the cultivars Geronimo, Massada, and Rebelski performed well all three years. Geronimo also performed well regarding marketable yield every year, with Arbason, Big Beef, Imperial 643 and Rebelski posting solid stats for two of the three years. The taste tests were inconclusive due to variability in weather, growing conditions, and individual taste preferences.

Tomatoes are the most common vegetable crop grown by NH vegetable farmers.

“Differences among cultivars in growth habit, disease resistance, and a host of other traits means that growers must make decisions based on their willingness to accept trade-offs in performance traits between cultivars,” Warren said. “For growers, the advantage of conducting this research at the experiment station is that we can adopt the risk of growing different cultivars because our income is not tied to it.”

Tomatoes are the most common vegetable crop grown by New Hampshire vegetable farmers, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service. Of the 682 farms growing vegetables reporting in 2012, nearly 350 said they grew tomatoes. The 2012 Agricultural Census reported that greenhouse tomatoes in New Hampshire were worth nearly $2.4 million; almost all of these were grown in heated or unheated high tunnels.

Tasha Dunning with Spring Ledge Farm in New London, said the high tunnel tomato trial was “a great benefit to many of us growers in New Hampshire whose biggest vegetable crop is tomatoes. Choosing varieties is difficult in that we cannot afford to use our tunnel space for trials of varieties that may not work out well. Nick worked closely with growers in his choices of varieties, and his growing methods are right in line with our methods. We were able to taste test the tomatoes as well as get the yield and disease resistance information that will help us choose varieties that are right for us.”

Founded in 1887, the NH Agricultural Experiment Station at theUNH College of Life Sciences and Agriculture is UNH’s original research center and an elemental component of New Hampshire's land-grant university heritage and mission. We steward federal and state funding, including support from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, to provide unbiased and objective research concerning diverse aspects of sustainable agriculture and foods, aquaculture, forest management, and related wildlife, natural resources and rural community topics. We maintain the Woodman and Kingman agronomy and horticultural farms, the Macfarlane Greenhouses, the Fairchild Dairy Teaching and Research Center, and the Organic Dairy Research Farm. Additional properties also provide forage, forests and woodlands in direct support to research, teaching, and outreach.