Red River Station Helps Louisiana Tomato Industry

Linda Benedict  |  8/22/2007 10:19:12 PM

Sales of greenhouse tomatoes from the LSU AgCenter’s Red River Research Station’s spring crop topped 65,000 pounds in 2007 – making this the best year ever.

“Our tomatoes look nice, taste good and have a long shelf life,” said H.Y. Hanna, the scientist at the station who has been conducting research on how to grow better greenhouse tomatoes for the past 11 years. “The tomatoes have superior quality and flavor because they are grown under controlled environmental conditions that protect them from damaging rain, hot days and cold nights.”

The station sells excess tomatoes from the research project and uses the money to help support the research, Hanna said.

The 2,400 tomato plants in the greenhouses are fed properly, kept at a temperature between 60 and 70 degrees F and protected from insects and disease, Hanna said.

Last year, Hanna put in a raised gutter system under the plants to keep excess moisture off the greenhouse floor.

“This lowered humidity, which means there is less chance for disease,” Hanna said. “The new gutter system is part of the reason our yields were so high this year.”

The other reason is extending the sale through July.

“We had been concluding that sale by the end of June,” Hanna said.

In 2006, the year the new gutter system was installed, more than 56,000 pounds were sold. The year before, more than 54,000 pounds were sold.

Hanna uses the information gathered from his research to teach people in the greenhouse tomato business how to do better. The station hosts a greenhouse tomato field day every February.

In 2006, 17 Louisiana parishes had 35 farms commercially growing greenhouse vegetables in 4.9 acres of greenhouse space. All production was devoted to tomatoes except for 4,000 square feet of hydroponic lettuce.

“Tomato plants need water, carbon dioxide and sun energy. We supply them with water and other minerals 12 times a day, from sunrise to sunset, to assist the plant to make sugars and proteins,” Hanna said.

The fruit begins as a flower, and the flower has to be pollinated by electric vibrators or bumblebees in the greenhouse. It takes approximately 50 days from pollination to produce a mature fruit. Each plant grows to be 20 to 25 feet tall in the spring and produces around 50 fruit that weigh approximately half a pound each.

“We leave only the nice looking fruit on the plant and remove the bad ones to save plant energy for better quality fruit,” Hanna said.

The tomatoes are sold to the public in 5-pound boxes for $10. In a recent informal survey, two-fifths of the tomato buyers were from outside of Shreveport- Bossier City.

“The tomato program is the only one of its kind in the mid-South and supports greenhouse producers in the surrounding states of Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi,” said Jere McBride, LSU AgCenter regional director.

Hanna said the tomato shelf life is three weeks, and he recommends that the tomatoes not be refrigerated.

Hanna also sells a fall crop of greenhouse tomatoes – but the spring tomatoes produce three and four times the yields of the fall tomatoes.

Mary Ann Van Osdell

(This article was published in the summer 2007 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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