Nationally, Florida ranks first in fresh-market tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) production value with U.S. $455 million in the 2013 season [U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 2014]. In 2013, Florida had the largest fresh-market tomato area in the United States with 13,760 ha harvested and an average yield of 29.7 Mg·ha−1 resulting in 408,397 Mg of tomato fruit (USDA, 2014). The majority of the tomato cultivars grown for the Florida fresh market are hybrids with a determinate upright growth habit that require staking, tying, pruning, and manual harvest. These cultural practices account for as much as 55% of the total tomato production cost (Davis and Estes, 1993), estimated at $34,595·ha−1 (G. McAvoy, personal communication). Mexico is the main Florida competitor for fresh-market tomatoes in the United States with the ability to produce tomatoes at lower cost per unit, which forces the Florida industry to seek new production systems to reduce cost and/or increase yields and fruit quality (McAvoy and Ozores-Hampton, 2011).
CGH tomatoes, which are determinate plants with a unique architecture, may be the basis of an alternative production system for Florida tomatoes. These tomato plants have low growth and spreading characteristics, forming compact vines that hold fruit above the ground as a result of their short branches and do not require staking, tying, or pruning (Kemble et al., 1994). When in the field, these tomato plants will cover the polyethylene-mulched bed but will not grow into the row middles, holding most of the fruit above the bed surface (Scott et al., 2010). As a result of the plant architecture of CGH tomatoes, they may be grown in a higher plant density than the currently used tomato cultivars, which may recover the losses of vertical space use. Studies with the CGH tomato line NC 13G-1, evaluated in North Carolina, planted in single or double rows showed that higher early and total marketable yields were produced in double rows compared with single rows (Gardner and Davis, 1991; Kemble, 1993). When NC 13G-1 in double rows was compared with the staked-upright tomato ‘Mountain Spring’ (Syngenta, NC) in a single row, NC 13G-1 produced 48% higher yield, although the staked-upright tomato cultivar had higher individual fruit weight than the NC 13G-1 line (Kemble, 1993).
Compact growth habit cultivars that have the jointless pedicel characteristic (j or j-2 genes) may be once-over mechanically harvested, eliminating the need for expensive hand-harvest labor (Scott et al., 2010). Because CGH tomatoes have in general a concentrated fruit set, they can be harvested once or twice (if manually harvested), reducing the harvesting cost when compared with the currently grown staked-upright tomatoes, which are generally harvested three or more times. Production costs would also be reduced because the time from transplant to final harvest in CGH tomatoes may be 2 to 4 weeks shorter than the currently grown cultivars (Ozores-Hampton et al., 2013a).
The development of a concentrated fruit set that is generally early in maturity in CGH plants compared with currently grown staked-upright tomato cultivars (Ozores-Hampton et al., 2013a; Scott et al., 2010) will be critical to enable once-over mechanical harvest (George and Berry, 1992). In processing tomatoes, which are mechanically harvested, plants set fruit and the fruit reaches maturity in a concentrated time period, which maximizes the harvest while maintaining fruit quality (George and Berry, 1992). For the fresh-market, mature-green tomato industry, a concentrated fruit set will maximize the amount of mature-green fruit at the time of harvest and enable the use of exogenous ethylene application, which is currently used by this industry.
Compact growth habit tomatoes with jointless pedicels that would be commercially acceptable have not been completely developed for the Florida market at this time, but progress is being made by the University of Florida Tomato Breeding Program (UF/TBP). Evaluation of the performance of new CGH tomato BLs and appropriate cultural practices to maximize yields at different locations will be crucial in the process of selecting lines that are suitable for the target market. Therefore, the objective of this study was to evaluate the effects of two planting configurations (single and double row) and BL on CGH tomato growth, flowering pattern, yield, and postharvest quality.
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