In 2018, the United States produced almost 42,000 acres of bell peppers (Capsicum annuum), with four-fifths of this production aimed at the fresh market [U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 2019]. Georgia produced 5548 acres in 2017, making it one the top three pepper-producing states (U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 2015; Wolfe and Stubbs, 2018). Although the current level of production of organic peppers in Georgia is small, the value of organic production overall in Georgia is more than $47 million (USDA, 2017). There are few trials evaluating peppers under organic conditions; however, there are many such trials conducted under conventional production practices (Boyhan et al., 2015; Gahler and Hofelich, 2017; Oxley et al., 2016; Sideman, 2016).
Many studies involving organic pepper production are centered around evaluating fertility and comparisons to conventional production (Duman et al., 2018; Elmann et al., 2016; Jokela and Nair, 2016). There are only a handful of studies evaluating pepper varieties under organic production practices. Most organic pepper trials have compared some aspect of conventional and organic production and generally concluded that yields between the two types of systems can be comparable with appropriate cultural practices (Chellemi and Rosskopf, 2004; Delate et al., 2008; Juroszek and Tsai, 2009; Silva and Bruce, 2016). A Florida study found organic peppers yields could match statewide conventional yields [≈31 t·ha−1 (987.8 boxes/acre, where 1 box = 28 lb)] when soil solarization practices were used (Chellemi and Rosskopf, 2004). An Iowa study compared multiple conventional and organic fertility programs for pepper (Delate et al., 2008). They found that organically grown ‘Red Knight X3R®’ pepper yields equaled or surpassed conventional yields [≈26,000 kg·ha−1 (828.4 boxes/acre)] when [56 kg·ha−1 (50.0 lb/acre)] of compost-based organic fertilizer or more was supplied. A study at the University of Wisconsin West Madison Agricultural Research Station, located in Verona, WI, involved six bell peppers and four roasting pepper varieties (Silva and Bruce, 2016). Variety Ace F1 had the greatest number of fruit per plot, which was more than any of the other bell pepper varieties. There was no difference in total marketable fruit with a high percentage of unmarketable peppers (>60%) across all entries. In another trial that primarily evaluated cropping system (i.e., conventional, organic, or soilless) there were two varieties, Almuden and Quito (Lopez et al., 2013). Conventional peppers generally resulted in larger, firmer, and thicker fruit, with ‘Almuden’ better suited for soilless production.
A study in Spain evaluated three pepper varieties under organic or conventional production and found no differences in the yields between the two systems, but did not directly compare the varieties (Gragera-Facundo et al., 2012). A Taiwanese study evaluated pepper varieties under tropical conditions with organic production practices (Juroszek and Tsai, 2009). Pepper varieties were evaluated during the wet-hot and dry-cool seasons with no differences between the entries during the hot-wet season. During the cool-dry season, ‘Andalus’ had the largest total yield with yields statistically greater than three of the six entries in the trials. Marketable organic pepper yields from 37 to 46 t·ha−1 were attained during the hot-wet season and 21 to 38 t·ha−1 during the cool-dry season, which were comparable to conventional yields attained for the same varieties in different locations.
With the growth of the organic market, there is interest in evaluating and/or developing varieties that are uniquely suited to organic production (Boyhan and Stone, 2016; Lammerts van Buren et al., 2011). Characteristics that would be desirable in organic production include resistance to biotic and abiotic stressors, including diseases, weeds, and insects as well as nutrient use efficiency, and high yields with good fruit quality (Lammerts van Buren et al., 2011). Pimenta et al. (2016) found in evaluating heritability of seven F1 hybrid pepper varieties that the characteristics under both organic and conventional production systems were highly heritable. A systems comparison study that included a conventional with irrigation site, a conventional without irrigation site, and an organic with irrigation site was conducted in New York (Wyatt et al., 2013). Disease resistance to Phytophthora capsici was evaluated along with yield for 12 bell pepper varieties, three of which were commercial varieties and nine were test hybrids. The varieties, Revolution and Paladin were the top performers for mean marketable yield in the organic system. In another study evaluating organic fertilizer sources, there were three different varieties of Serrano peppers, with Don Diego having the best performance (Castellanos et al., 2017). In Spain, 25 landraces and three commercial varieties were evaluated under organic production practices and five landraces were identified as potential varieties with good performance for organic growers (Gragera et al., 2008). In a unique study of 37 pepper accessions that were evaluated for bioactive compounds both under organic and conventional production was conducted in Spain (Ribes-Moya et al., 2018). Fully ripe fruit, under organic conditions, showed a greater amount of ascorbic acid and total phenolics compared with conventional production. There were also significant variety × ripening and variety × growing conditions, suggesting that some varieties may be better suited for organic production for the development of bioactive compounds.
In a study evaluating organic production, two sweet pepper varieties, Magali R and Magda Super with or without sunhemp (Crotalaria juncea) intercropping, and with and without branch pruning, it was found that ‘Magali R’ produced heavier and larger fruit compared with ‘Magda Super’ (Cesar et al., 2007). It was also found that intercropping sunhemp improved yield, whereas branch pruning reduced yield.
A description of the bell pepper varieties included in our study follows, and photos of the entries are shown in Fig. 1 with company descriptions in Table 1. ‘Aristotle X3R®’ is a popular commercial F1 hybrid variety in the southeastern United States that has good yields with disease resistance to Potato virus Y (PVY) and some races of bacterial leaf spot (Xanthomonas campestris pv. vesicatoria) (Boyhan et al., 2015; Kemble, 2019). ‘Blitz’ is an early maturing variety with resistance to Tobacco mosaic virus (TMV), Tobacco etch virus (TEV), and several races of bacterial leaf spot (Sakata Seed, 2018). ‘Gridiron’ is a hybrid bell pepper that is red at full maturity (Sakata Seed, 2018). It is noted for its resistance to TMV, several races of bacterial leaf spot and TEV. ‘King Arthur’ is an F1 hybrid pepper, red at maturity with resistance to bacterial leaf spot races 1 and 2, PYV, TEV, and TMV (Johnny’s Selected Seed, 2019; Kemble, 2019). ‘PS 09979325 X10R®’ is an F1 hybrid with resistance to bacterial spot races 0 to 10, as well as, Tobamovirus tolerance (Seminis Vegetable Seeds, 2018). ‘Red Knight X3R®’ pepper is similar to ‘King Arthur’ with resistance to bacterial leaf spot races 1 to 3 and PVY resistance (Johnny’s Selected Seed, 2019). ‘Touchdown’ is an F1 red pepper at maturity with resistance to TMV and bacterial spot races 0 to 5 and 7 to 9 (Sakata Seed, 2018).
Pepper variety characteristics as reported by the seed companies.
‘Flavorburst’ is another F1 variety that is yellow/orange at full maturity (Johnny’s Selected Seed, 2019). Another yellow/orange variety is Gourmet, which also has resistance to TMV (Johnny’s Selected Seed, 2019). ‘Islander’ is an F1 hybrid bell pepper with resistance to TMV and is interesting in that it matures to purple, then yellow/orange, and finally red when fully mature (Johnny’s Selected Seed, 2019).
Jupiter is an open-pollinated variety that is red at full maturity that has tolerance to TMV (Totally Tomatoes, 2019). An heirloom variety included in this trial was ‘California Wonder’, which is an older variety that remains popular particularly among amateur growers. However, it has experienced genetic drift with two different varieties recognized (Candole et al., 2012). Released in 1965 by the University of New Hampshire, ‘Sweet Chocolate’ is an open-pollinated specialty sweet pepper that is brown at maturity (Seed Savers Exchange, 2019).
There is a dearth of pepper trials that compare variety performance under organic production practices, especially in the southeastern United States where pepper is an economically important crop. Therefore, the objective of the study was to evaluate total yield, graded yield, and early yield of 13 commercial pepper varieties available in the United States when grown in an organic system in the southeastern region.
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