Results of the 2012 Heirloom Variety Demonstration Plots
1 Assistant Professor – School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences; 2 Professor – School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences; 3 Retired Professor – School of Plant, Environmental and Soil Sciences; 4 County Agents – LSU AgCenter.
In 2011, Louisiana tomatoes were grown by 310 producers on 467 acres. The 2011 gross farm value of the field tomato crop was about $12.4 million. Tomatoes are one of the most valuable fruit and vegetable crops grown by local Louisiana producers. Most Louisiana consumers purchase tomatoes for fresh use or canning. Many of the consumers who purchase tomatoes directly from the farmer via roadside stands or farmers markets do so for high-quality produce. The Louisiana consumer also prefers meeting the farmer to gain a better understanding of production practices (i.e. sustainable/organic/conventional) and to obtain a great-tasting product. Customers request heirloom tomatoes from Louisiana’s growers. However, many growers do not plant heirloom tomatoes because they simply do not produce the high yields that hybrid tomatoes produce. In order for farmers to profit, they would need to charge double and sometimes triple the price to stay in business. Some customers are willing to pay the higher prices, but most aren’t. The LSU AgCenter established several demonstration plots throughout the state to study heirloom tomato varieties. The purpose of the demonstration plots was to determine if a particular heirloom variety yielded better than others.
Ten heirloom tomato varieties were grown in eight locations throughout Louisiana. Selected varieties included: Thessolaniki, Red Brandywine, Pink Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter, Persimmon, Pruden’s Purple, Black from Tula, Pink German, Old German and Hillbilly Potato Leaf. Demonstration locations included farms located in the following parishes: Tangipahoa, Terrebonne, St. Landry, Livingston, Red River, West Feliciana and East Baton Rouge. Intensive data were collected from Burden Center in Baton Rouge, La. Other participating fields were evaluated immediately after harvest began. All participating farmers were asked to grow the tomatoes on plastic mulch using drip irrigation and to incorporate a conventionally based fungicide spray program to prevent infestation of disease. The following will explain specific production techniques implemented at the heirloom tomato field at Burden Center in Baton Rouge, La.
All varieties were seeded on January 10, 2012, and later transplanted into the field on March 19, 2012. The field was fertilized with 8-24-24 prior to planting at a rate equivalent to 650 lbs/acre. The tomatoes were grown on aluminum-coated plastic mulch with drip irrigation. Aluminum mulch is often selected by commercial tomato and pepper growers during spring production. The aluminum coating helps prevent thrips infestation that could lead to tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) incidence. Heirloom tomatoes are softer than hybrids and have a tendency to crack. Therefore, irrigation was applied twice daily in 20-minute allotments from transplant through harvest to minimize large quantities of water supplied at a single time. Irrigation schedules will vary from farm to farm. Dual herbicide was applied to control weed infestation in row middles. The heirlooms were sidedressed weekly from bloom initiation through harvest alternating calcium nitrate and potassium nitrate fertilizers. See the table below for the fungicide spray schedule.
Several insects presented problem in the tomato field, including cucumber beetles, aphids, thrips and stink bugs. Malathion and Thionex were applied to control insect populations. All chemicals were applied at recommended rates as labeled in the Southeastern U.S. Vegetable Crop Handbook. Fertilizer rates were applied at recommended rates in the Louisiana Commercial Vegetable Production Guide.
Tomatoes were single drilled and planted at 18-inch spacings within the row. Three replications of each variety were planted, with 20 plants within each replication. A skip row was left open between every two planted rows to obtain optimum spray coverage when applying chemicals. Harvest data were collected throughout June, recording total yield for all tomatoes not including rotten fruit. Fruit was harvested weekly. Plant size, foliage coverage, exterior color, interior color, firmness, cracking, fruit size and yield were also recorded.
Two field days were held, one at Covey Rise farms in Husser, La., with 40 people in attendance. Persimmon and Mortgage Lifter were the taste test winners. The second field day was held at Burden Center in Baton Rouge, La. Approximately 175 people rated the heirloom tomatoes for taste. Pink Brandywine won the taste test at Burden Center. The top five producing tomatoes included: Thessaloniki – 336.44 lbs, 5.6 lbs/plant; Black from Tula – 306.15 lbs, 5.10 lbs/plant; Red Brandywine – 295.7 lbs, 4.92 lbs/plant; Pruden’s Purple – 276.05 lbs, 4.6 lbs/plant; and Mortgage Lifter – 241.05 lbs, 4.01 lbs/plant.
General comments on each variety are provided below:
Persimmon: Extra-large plant with some resistance to foliar leaf disease; exterior and interior colors are excellent; a very bright orange color. Although the tomato has a large stem and blossom end scar, the overall firmness is good considering it is an heirloom variety. The fruit are extra-large and large in size with an average yield. Recommend for home garden production.
Thessaloniki: Extra-large plant displaying a little foliar leaf disease. The exterior color is cherry red with little to no blemishes. The interior is fair, exhibiting some white blotchy spots. This is one of the firmest tomatoes in the trial with little to no cracks even after heavy rains. The fruit size is very small but yields well. Recommend for home owners and commercial growers with additional research.
Hillbilly Potato Leaf: Extra-large plant with some resistance to foliar leaf disease. The exterior color is yellow with a red stripe. The interior color is a combination of red and yellow. The fruit does not ripen evenly. It has a very characteristic heirloom appearance. The fruit are extra-large in size and very firm but crack easily and have large stem blossom end scars. Yield is terrible. Not recommended.
Red Brandywine: A large plant that is somewhat disease susceptible. The exterior color is excellent, displaying a dark cherry red color with little to no blemishes. The interior color is average with white spots and patches throughout. The tomatoes are small in size and very firm with little scars or cracks. Excellent yields. Recommend for home garden production and commercial production with additional research.
Pruden’s Purple: Extra-large plant somewhat susceptible to disease. Dark pink exterior color with a green shoulder. Interior is light pink in color with some white spots. The fruit is somewhat firm but not as firm as others. Large stem scars and radial cracks. The fruit is large in size and has a good yield. But overall should be “more purple” to justify the name. Not recommended.
Old German: An extra-large plant with good foliage until the end of season. The exterior is yellow with a red stripe (very characteristic-looking heirloom fruit); excellent interior color that is yellow with a red spot close to the center. It is a very firm, medium-to-large fruit with a small blossom end scar, large stem scar and cracks under heavy rains. Yields are average. Not recommended.
Mortgage Lifter: An extra-large plant with superior foliage showing very little disease until the end of the season. The fruit has a dark pink exterior color that is excellent. The interior is a dark red with some white spots. Firmness is average. Fruit size varies but is mostly extra-large in size. Good yields. Recommended for home garden production.
German Pink: Extra-large plant, with excellent foliage until end of season. VERY susceptible to Southern blight. Exterior color is dark pink with a small green shoulder (characteristic of heirlooms). The interior color is light red with some white spots giving it a fair-to-poor rating. Firmness is fair, and fruit has large stem scars with small blossom end scars and some radial cracking. The fruit is large to extra-large in size. If picked at breaker stage, this would be a beautiful tomato! Recommended for home garden production.
Brandywine Pink: Extra-large plant with excellent foliage and little disease until end of season. The exterior color is a beautiful dark pink, but the interior is average to good dark pink color but displaying many white spots. Firmness is excellent, but blossom end and stem scars are large. The fruit size varies but mostly encompasses large medium fruit with a few extra-large mixed in. Good yields. Recommended for home garden production.
Black from Tula: Large plant with good foliage, displaying little disease until end of season. The exterior has a large green shoulder and is burgundy to purple on the bottom half. The interior has green jelly. People who like Cherokee purple will like this tomato. Firmness is good with small blossom end and stem scars but is very susceptible to concentric cracks. A small tomato that yields very well. Recommended for home garden production.
See the attached pictures for additional information. The LSU AgCenter encourages commercial producers and home gardeners to try these varieties on a small scale to determine if performances will be similar and also to determine if customers are willing to pay an increased price for heirloom varieties.