High tunnels improve tomato yields and/or quality over both field production (Martinez-Blanco et al., 2011; O'Connell et al., 2012; Rogers and Wszelaki, 2012) and low tunnels (Waterer, 2003). By enabling earlier planting dates and later harvests, high tunnels can extend the growing season, thereby allowing for enhanced growth and the intensification of tomato production in cool climates (Hunter et al., 2012; Uzun, 2007). High tunnels can also protect crops from rain and wind damage and against some pests and diseases (Blomgren and Frisch, 2007; Wells and Loy, 1993). Because of its high value, tomato has become the principal crop grown in high tunnels in many states (Carey et al., 2009).
Cultivar selection remains a critical component to successful tomato production, and many important traits contribute to cultivar performance in all growing environments, including high tunnels. Traits such as consumer preferences (taste), marketable yield, and yield components such as percentage of unmarketable fruit and the total number of fruit are clearly relevant to growers. Other traits, including susceptibility to disease and physiological disorders, are also important and should be included in the overall assessment of cultivar performance (Hutton and Handley, 2006).
Fungal diseases present a significant challenge to tomato growers. Two of these, leaf mold and powdery mildew, are more prevalent in greenhouse or tunnel production than in open-field systems (Curtis et al., 1994, Jones et al., 2001, Whipps et al., 1998). Leaf mold tends to occur annually in northeastern U.S. high tunnels, whereas powdery mildew is less common, and does not occur every year. Chemical management of both diseases in high tunnels is challenged by limited fungicide options in greenhouses. However, genetic resistance to both diseases exists in tomato cultivars. Resistance to leaf mold is controlled by single race-specific resistance genes that have been widely deployed in cultivars (e.g., Joosten and de Wit, 1999), but it is not known which of the many pathogen races are found in the northeastern U.S. region. Resistance to powdery mildew has been described in a few cultivars (e.g., Seifi et al., 2014), but the response of tomato cultivars to powdery mildew in our region has not been described.
The total marketable yield of a cultivar is governed by the potential to produce fruit and the percentage of that fruit which is damaged to the extent that it is no longer marketable. The reason fruit becomes unmarketable is a function of abiotic and biotic factors driven by genetic susceptibility, management, and environmental conditions, or often combinations thereof. Some of the many physiological disorders affecting tomato include blossom-end rot, yellow shoulder, uneven ripening (parts of fruit remaining yellow), and various forms of fruit cracking (Jones et al., 2014). While environmental factors usually determine whether particular disorders will be seen, cultivars differ in their susceptibility to common disorders, and an improved understanding of these differences would help growers minimize the risk of crop loss by selecting less susceptible cultivars.
To our knowledge, there are no data in the peer-reviewed literature from tomato cultivar trials conducted in high tunnels that are applicable to the northeastern United States. There are, however, several informative extension publications available for various regions in the United States (e.g., Bogash, 2011; Monroe et al., 2010). The purpose of this experiment was to evaluate, describe, and communicate the important differences in yield and susceptibility to common diseases and disorders among 15 tomato cultivars in a high tunnel production system under conditions typical for the northeastern United States (i.e., raised beds, plasticulture, and irrigation) (Lamont et al., 2003).
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Monroe, J.S., Restrepo, M.H., Eck, J.K., Johnson, S.R., Norris, K.B. & Clinton, S. 2010 Midwest vegetable trial report for 2010: Tomato variety trial, 2010. 15 Dec. 2014. <https://ag.purdue.edu/hla/fruitveg/Documents/pdf/reports/9-1_Monroe_Tomato_Variety%20trial_LR.pdf>
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