No-Till Processing Tomatoes Do Well in Study
Economic and Environmental Impact of No-Till Processing Tomatoes vs.
Conventional Processing Tomatoes
The results have been tabulated for a 1999 project that compared the
"Economic and Environmental Impact of No-Till Processing Tomatoes vs.
Conventional Processing Tomatoes". Partial funding for this study was
provided by a grant from the USDA Sustainable Agriculture Research and
Education Program (SARE). Vegetable farmers are looking for ways to
reduce imput costs, protect the environment, and still maintain
profitability. Much attention to soil quality and soil health issues has
revived interest in studying new ways to “sustain” the soil. In
particular, soil erosion is a serious problem for vegetable growers in a
large portion of the Mid-Atlantic region where over 9 tons per acre of
soil is lost each year. Lowering production costs with fewer tillage
trips and using less pesticides is attractive as well. This project
observed the No-till method of planting processing tomatoes into a cover
crop, as a way to address some problems
facing tomato growers. Furman Foods, Inc., Brubaker Agronomic Consulting
Service, and 2 processing tomato growers, collaborated in this effort to
determine if this concept of planting warranted further research. Steve
Groff, Cedar Meadow Farm, Holtwood, PA coordinated the effort.
3 farms were included in this project. Furman Foods, Inc., located in
Northumberland County, no-till planted approximately 3 acres of
processing tomatoes as well as several acres adjacent planted
conventionally. Steve Groff, Holtwood, PA, no-till
planted 20 acres of processing tomatoes and Clyde Krieder, Washington
Boro, PA, planted 50 acres of conventionally grown processing tomatoes.
Brubaker Agronomic Consulting Service (BACS) scouted the fields and made
recommendations for growing a crop of high quality processing tomatoes.
1999 was one of the driest summers on record. Then during the month of
September we had a record-breaking 18.8" of rain, which negatively
impacted crop quality. Overall yields were lower than normal. Results
from this project should be used from a “demonstration” perspective
only, as the comparisons are not side by side or replicated.
Groff's no-tilled tomato fields yielded 23.7 tons per acre, while
Kreider's conventionally grown tomatoes yielded 21.3 tons per acre.
Furmans Food, Inc.'s no-tilled field and conventional field yielded the
same at 32.5 tons per acre. Average
Lancaster County yields were 20.5 tons per acre. Average grade (percent
92% was the grade for the no tilled crop while the conventional
averaged slightly better at 95%.
The costs for the no-tilled tomatoes were $130.00 per acre less than the
conventional tomatoes. This was mainly due to fewer pesticides applied.
Furman's Food, Inc. in their comparison had nearly identical costs
between the two systems.
No erosion was noticed on the 2-12% slopes where the no-tilled tomatoes
were planted at Cedar Meadow Farm, while the conventional fields had
some moderate erosion on 2-3% slopes. This is where the no-till concept
shows dramatic benefits.
Weed control in both systems was good. There was some weed control help
from the mulch.
The conventional tomatoes had some aphid pressure on the late tomato
fields and spraying was recommended. Overall, this year the no-tilled
tomatoes had slightly higher insect pressure, but were never sprayed
with an insecticide. There was no
Colorado Potato Beetle pressure this year in either system.
Early blight pressure was lighter than normal, but was present at low
levels in both systems because of irrigation, and became more prevalent
late in season when plants neared harvest. The conventional fields had
some blossom end rot early on in fruit
set, due to lack of water. The no-till did not have very much blossom
end rot as he was able to keep more water on his tomatoes and his mulch
helped keep soil moisture a little better than the bare ground
tomatoes. The conventional field also
had Buckeye rot (Phytopthora) late in the season when it turned wet due
to the tomatoes touching bare soil. The no-till had some buckeye rot at
a few places, but overall lost very little fruit to this disease once
conditions turned wet.
The most notable benefits for no-till is the erosion control, moisture
holding capability, and better soil structure. By utilizing a cover crop
in conjunction with no-tillage, the effect is multiplied and weed
control is better. By having mulch on the soil surface the tomato fruit
is less susceptible to disease. Pesticides can be reduced in this system
if cover crops and rotation is included in the system. In Steve Groff's
5 years experience of growing over 100 cumulative acres of no-till
tomatoes, he has seen consistant reduction of early blight and has never
had to control Colorado Potato Beetle. This is concurs with other
growers as well who have planted no-till tomatoes. We will need to
continue on this for a few more years until we can get all the questions
answered for a wide range of situations.
Based on the results of this project and past no-till experience, we can
* No-tilled processing tomatoes can be as profitable as
conventionally grown processing tomatoes.
* No-till tomatoes are definitely better in controlling soil erosion
on sloping fields.
* No-till can potentially reduce pesticide usage.
* Tomato fruit quality is as good as conventionally grown tomatoes.
* The costs and establishment of a cover crop are nearly the same as
the costs of pre-plant tillage.
A detailed report on this project can be found at
http://www.cedarmeadowfarm.com/ Click on "Research at CMF"
-- Steve Groff
"Enhancing the Environment" http://www.cedarmeadowfarm.com/ Cedar Meadow Farm 679 Hilldale Road Holtwood, PA 17532 USA
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