Researchers at the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) recently presented results from a 2016 trial on organic tomato production. The research explored high-tunnel production versus field production, as well as interactions between grafted and non-grafted plants.
Craig Frey, a Ph.D. student and horticulture scientist, worked along with Xin Zhao, UF/IFAS assistant professor, on this project. Frey says the benefits found with high-tunnel production compared to the open field included greater yields, longer shelf life and disease reduction. However, there were also challenges, such as higher nematode counts. Overall, Frey says the benefits seemed to outweigh the challenges for high-tunnel production.
As for grafting, the benefits definitely outweighed the challenges. Based on the research, Frey says grafted plants showed better productivity and marketable yields while producing a more vigorous plant that seemed to resist disease.
The biggest challenges for both high-tunnel production and the use of grafted plants is the cost and the lack of information. However, Frey says that if growers are willing to invest in high tunnels, it would be in their best interest to invest in grafting their plants as well. “Firstly with high tunnels, do your research well to find a system that can make it as cheap as possible. If you’re going to invest in a tunnel, invest in grafting too, because with the extension you get with the high tunnels, you might as well have more vigorous plants. The extra dollar will pay for itself quickly,” Frey advises.
Frey and Zhao are almost done with their research for the 2017 season. Frey says they tried not to change the variables of the research, but one big difference this season was the dry weather. They have seen a lot less pest pressure due to the dryness, which will affect their results in comparison to last year’s results. The researchers are now in the process of analyzing the plants post-harvest and gathering final results.
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