Annual Tomato Field Day Grows into Popular Community Event

Every year since 2009, the LSU AgCenter has hosted the St. James Parish Tomato Field Day at Raymond “T-Black” Millet’s farm in Paulina.

Held the first week of June, the field day typically draws a crowd of 150-200 people. Over the years it has become a community event, attracting tomato enthusiasts from neighboring parishes as well.

There was one exception to the annual rule, however. LSU AgCenter extension agent Craig Roussel said in 2014, many parts of the parish had a serious problem with flooding the day before the field day.

“So we canceled. We knew the community would be pulling together to help their neighbors out, and we didn’t want to interfere with that,” he said.

The field day consists of a field tour, presentations and a free jambalaya lunch. Helping people grow better tomatoes is the goal. But the field day also offers the value of fellowship.

Preparing for the field day begins in December when tomato varieties are selected for the upcoming spring. Roussel looks for new varieties that have a good disease resistance package and have good reports from other states in the southeast U.S. Some of these varieties may have also been tested in LSU AgCenter variety trials.

Seeds of the selected varieties are then ordered from various seed companies, and the students in the Vocational Agriculture Class at Lutcher High School help by growing the transplants in their greenhouse. They also help, if available, transplant in the field around mid-March.

During the field tour, LSU AgCenter agents and specialists discuss the different tomato varieties, highlighting their disease resistance and their plant and fruit characteristics. Insect and disease issues and controls, and weeds and herbicides are also discussed.

“It’s important for us to address some of the challenges that growers have to deal with and provide them with a variety of solutions,” said Mariah Simoneaux, LSU AgCenter extension agent. “These guys have techniques that have worked for them for years, but they are still open to new ideas.”

St. James Parish and the surrounding area have many small growers who sell tomatoes locally to grocery stores and at roadside stands. Many of them still prefer the older varieties, so the field day tries to showcase some of the newer varieties that have better disease resistance and higher production capabilities.

Most new tomato varieties are determinate types that grow to a predetermined height and stop because the terminal bud is a flower bud. An effort is made to get producers to consider growing determinate tomatoes and change their production methods to accommodate these varieties to maximize production, Roussel said.

Even though tomatoes are the main attraction, for the past couple of years several bell pepper and cucumber varieties have been added to the field day.

Other features have been added to the field day agenda over the years. For example, the winners of the 4-H Youth and Adult Spring Garden Contest are announced. Also, a tomato taste test is conducted where participants can vote on the best-tasting variety. For the past two years to increase the friendly competition, a “Biggest Tomato Contest” has been included, which brings in individual tomatoes weighing more than a pound.

Roussel said community support and involvement provide the greatest satisfaction.

“My first year with this field day was 2012,” he said. “I was absolutely amazed by the turnout, involvement and support – and to see growers producing some of the varieties that we have grown for the field day.”

Johnny Morgan is a specialist with LSU AgCenter Communications.

(This article appeared in the winter 2016 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)

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LSU AgCenter agent Craig Roussel, right, prepares judges for the tomato and cucumber taste test during the St. James Parish Tomato Field Day in Paulina. Photo by Johnny Morgan

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Morning Glory and Red Morning are two early-maturing tomato varieties that were on display at the St. James Parish Tomato Field Day in Paulina on June 4, 2015. These are just two of the many favorite varieties of growers in south Louisiana. Photo by Johnny Morgan

5/4/2016 3:23:11 PM
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