100 Years of Impact: NFREC Instrumental in Helping Tomato Industry

Clint Thompson Florida, Tomatoes, Top Posts

By Clint Thompson

The University of Florida (UF) Institute of Food and Agricultural Services (IFAS) North Florida Research and Education Center (NFREC) in Quincy, Florida has enjoyed 100 years of impact. Part of that success is attributed to the vegetable program, in particular, with tomatoes.

Josh Freeman, University of Florida/IFAS Associate Professor in Horticultural Science, discusses the impact his predecessors had with management of tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV).

Josh Freeman

“One of the major successes of the previous program was dealing with tomato spotted wilt. Tomato spotted wilt management in the late 80s and early 90s was a deal breaker. There weren’t resistant varieties,” Freeman said. “It was looking at ways at managing it in tomato and it also showed up in peanuts as well. That’s been one of the major successes of my predecessor.”

TSWV is one of the major pests of tomato and pepper crops in the Southeast. Management includes preventative tactics like TSWV-resistant plant cultivars, reflective mulch, chemical treatments and weed management.

Fumigation Research

Freeman said his lab now focuses more on fumigation.

“A lot of our work now is focused on improving fumigant management with the fumigant tools that we’ve got, reducing input costs associated with soil fumigation. That’s where we are now,” Freeman said.

The NFREC is one part of UF/IFAS that’s dedicated to helping the state’s tomato industry revive itself against ongoing challenges like labor and increased imports from Mexico.

“I don’t see the challenges we’ve got now changing drastically. I think labor will continue to be tight, I think international competition will continue to be stiff. Our biggest focus now is not necessarily improving yield but improving economic efficiency. That includes changing input costs or reducing labor,” Freeman said. “There’s groups within the University of Florida that are looking outside the box. Non-stake tomatoes for example, grown on top of plastic once over harvest, potentially mechanical. That’s what we’ve got to do. I don’t think the headwinds against our industry, whether it’s Florida or anywhere else in the U.S., are going to change. We have to gain efficiency.”