Tomato is an important crop in the United States with 105,700 acres of fresh tomatoes harvested and 327,800 acres of processed tomatoes valued at $2.5 billion [U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 2009]. In Georgia, tomato production is valued at $33.5 million and is produced on 3400 acres (Wolf and Shepherd, 2012).
Organic farming has seen a surge in production in the last 15–20 years. From 1992 to 2008, total certified farm land has increased 5-fold from around 900,000 acres to 4.8 million acres (USDA, 2008). The Georgia Department of Agriculture lists 2438 acres (M. Evans, personal communication) in organic production. Certified organic growers in Georgia are required to register with the Georgia Department of Agriculture; however, they are not required to report acres and about half of the 124 certified organic farms did not report acreage. In addition, many growers do not obtain certification from the USDA or use an alternative certification such as Certified Naturally Grown (J. Gaskin, personal communication). Although it is impossible to ascertain the number of organic acres in Georgia, it is probably in the range of 4000–5000 acres. This increase in organic production has resulted in an increase in research efforts in this area; however, there continues to be a growing need for organic research that can help this agricultural sector.
Variety evaluation is one area that can be helpful for organic producers. Several such studies have been conducted by researchers around the world examining different aspects of variety performance under organic conditions. Organic variety evaluations have occurred in Italy, India, Spain, Croatia, Poland, France, and the United States (Campanelli et al., 2012; Francis and Stark, 2012; Ganesan, 2001; Gonzalez-Cebrino et al., 2011; Kapoulas et al., 2011; Piazza et al., 2003; Porteneuve et al., 2012; Ronga et al., 2011, 2012; Sánchez-Giráldez et al., 2012; Szafirowska, 2010). Along with yield, a number of other characteristics have been investigated including fruit cracking, antioxidants such as lycopene, sugar, and vitamin C content (Aldrich et al., 2010; Bender et al., 2005; Sánchez-Giráldez et al., 2012). There continues to be a need for variety evaluations as many of the available varieties are locally adapted or only regionally available. There has been little trialing of tomato varieties under organic conditions in the southeastern United States. One study in North Carolina evaluated heirloom and hybrid tomatoes in conjunction with various production practices including organic and conventional. The heirloom variety Stupice and the hybrid NC 0652 did well under organic production, whereas NC 0652 did better under conventional production (Davis, 2007).
Efforts to develop varieties specifically for organic production have been shown to be possible with wheat [Triticum asetivum (Murphy et al., 2007)]. In two of the five locations evaluated in this study, conventionally produced wheat yielded higher, while at the other three locations there was no difference in yield. However, there was a variety by production system (i.e., organic vs. conventional) interaction in four of the five locations suggesting that selection of phenotypes for organic production may be possible.
Breeding vegetables for organic production systems has been limited. Although there are many open-pollinated vegetable varieties, most commercial varieties have been developed for conventional production with an emphasis on F1 hybrids, which often exhibit hybrid vigor and protect the breeder’s investment. Organic growers are interested in open-pollinated varieties from which the seed can be easily saved. Most seed companies are reluctant to invest in such varieties because the seed of such varieties is so easily saved. Public breeding programs that filled this void by having a primary focus on developing open-pollinated varieties have been reduced over the years as resources have been diverted into biotechnology and basic research. For example, at Auburn University in the early 1980s, there were three plant breeders working on seven different horticultural crops. Today there are no plant breeders actively working on releasing new horticultural varieties at this institution. The National Association of Plant Breeders (NAPB) recommendations for improving germplasm lists field-based plant breeding capacities, second only to germplasm conservation as goals for the next 5 years (NAPB, 2011).
In a review article, Lammerts van Bueren et al. (2011) suggested several areas that should be emphasized in organic breeding programs. These included soil nutrient use efficiency, rhizosphere competence for disease resistance, weed competition, disease resistance, insect resistance, abiotic stress tolerance, and quality.
There have been some collaborative efforts in breeding for organic production. An example is the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative that includes four universities, the USDA, and the Organic Seed Alliance (Oregon State University, 2013). This group has not only been active in breeding for organic production but maintains a database of organic variety trials.
As breeding efforts increase focusing on organic production, there will be an increasing need to evaluate these varieties. In addition, currently available open-pollinated tomato varieties that may be locally adapted, that have not been the focus of commercial production, will have to be evaluated. This study was undertaken to compare, under organic production practices, fresh market modern F1 varieties commonly grown in the southeastern United States with open-pollinated varieties popular among organic growers.
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