To date, grafting has been used successfully in vegetable production for disease control and yield improvement in many parts of the world, especially in Asia and Europe (Lee and Oda, 2003; Lee et al., 2010). A number of rootstocks have been developed for managing various soilborne diseases and root-knot nematodes in production of tomato, eggplant (Solanum melongena), pepper (Capsicum annuum), cucumber (Cucumis sativus), melon (Cucumis melo), and watermelon (Citrullus lanatus), particularly in intensive cultural systems (King et al., 2010; Lee et al., 2010; Louws et al., 2010). Moreover, many of these rootstocks demonstrate tolerance to abiotic stresses and show great potential for enhancing crop vigor and productivity even under low disease pressure (Di Gioia et al., 2010; Fernández-García et al., 2002; Schwarz et al., 2010). In the United States, greenhouse hydroponic tomato growers are currently the primary users of grafted seedlings, whereas vegetable grafting is still a relatively new technique for open-field producers (King et al., 2010; Kubota et al., 2008; Lee et al., 2010).
With the phaseout of methyl bromide soil fumigant and new search for integrated disease management practices in field vegetable production, interest in vegetable grafting under field conditions has been growing recently in the United States (Barrett et al., 2012a; Kubota et al., 2008; Rivard et al., 2010a; Rivard and Louws, 2008). However, the high cost of grafted transplants still remains the major concern limiting the adoption of grafting by vegetable growers, especially large-scale open-field producers (Kubota et al., 2008; Lee et al., 2010). In addition to the costs of rootstock seeds, grafted transplant production requires investment in space, supplies and materials, and labor for making and healing the grafts, which ultimately increases the costs of grafted vegetable production (Barrett et al., 2012b; Rivard et al., 2010b). For example, estimated prices for grafted tomato transplants ranged from $0.59 to $1.88 as opposed to $0.13 to $0.76 for nongrafted plants in two transplant production operations in the United States (Rivard et al., 2010b).
A recent study on grafted heirloom tomato production demonstrated the economic feasibility of using grafted plants for root-knot nematode control when there was a high level of infestation in the field (Barrett et al., 2012b). However, limited information is available as to whether grafting can be used economically in open-field production. Considering the multifaceted benefits of vegetable grafting, a comprehensive approach involving different production scenarios is needed to evaluate the economic feasibility of using grafted tomato transplants as a viable component of field tomato production systems.
The main objective of this 2-year study was to determine the costs and benefits of using grafted transplants for field production of fresh-market tomato in fumigated sandy soils in northern Florida. A partial budget analysis of grafted vs. nongrafted tomato production was performed to assess if the additional costs associated with grafting can be offset by the improved marketable fruit yield. In addition, given that grafted transplant prices may decrease as research advances and the profitability of tomato production is also determined by tomato market prices, sensitivity analyses were conducted to examine the net returns of grafted tomato production as influenced by the grafted transplant costs and tomato selling prices.
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