Two Hundred Tons Per Hectare of Processing Tomatoes—Can We Reach It?

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  • 1 U.S. Department of Agriculture. Agricultural Research Service, Pacific West Area, Water Management Research Laboratory, Fresno, Calif.

Processing tomato is an important crop in California, where ≈ 100,000 ha is grown annually. In the past, processing tomatoes have been irrigated mostly by sprinkler and furrow irrigation, although several tests have been conducted with drip irrigation, and a few growers are using subsurface drip irrigation. Yields of tomato have been shown to be sensitive to water management when the amount of irrigation water closely matches plant water use. Tomatoes have been identified as susceptible to drought stress and waterlogging at both ends of the furrow irrigation cycle. Subsurface drip irrigation is a relatively new method in which drip irrigation laterals are buried permanently 20 to 60 cm below the soil surface. This method has provided the control and uniformity of water and fertilizer distribution necessary to maximize the yield of processing tomatoes. A computerized control system maintains nearly constant soil water and nutrient concentration in the root zone by irrigating and fertilizing frequently, thus avoiding small water and nutrient stresses, especially during the critical period between first and peak bloom. During the maturation and ripening stage, irrigation and nutrient concentrations can be adjusted to increase soluble solids and to adjust the maturation rate to coincide with the harvest schedule. Maximum yield levels can be obtained when nearly all the fertilizers (N, P, and K) are injected precisely in time and space through the drip irrigation system to meet the crop nutrient requirement. Water-use efficiency (WUE), defined as the ratio of yield: unit of water used by the plant, can be maximized by using this precise irrigation and fertilization technique. Yields >200 t·ha-1 of red tomatoes were achieved in large field plot research, and commercial yields of 150 t·ha-1 were achieved in large-scale field applications with a lesser degree of control. Therefore, we predict that with further fine-tuning, commercial yields of 200 tons of processing tomatoes/ha could be achieved using a subsurface drip irrigation system with accurate water and fertility management.

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