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P.R. Johnstone, T.K. Hartz, M. LeStrange, J.J. Nunez, and E.M. Miyao

Fruit soluble solids concentration (SSC) is an important quality factor for tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) grown for processing. The use of drip irrigation often results in undesirably low SSC. The effects of late-season irrigation management on fruit yield and SSC was investigated in a series of drip-irrigated field trials in California from 2000–04. The effects of irrigation cutoff or deficit irrigation implemented 40 to 50 days preharvest (the period corresponding to the initiation of fruit ripening) were compared to a standard grower practice of irrigation cutoff 20 days preharvest. Irrigation cutoff 40 to 50 days preharvest increased SSC but resulted in substantial yield loss, with significantly reduced brix yield (Mg fruit solids ha-1). By contrast, deficit irrigation significantly increased SSC compared to the standard practice, with no significant loss of brix yield. In three commercial fields the effect of deficit irrigation on fruit SSC was investigated. Fruits were sampled on three dates: 1) 4 to 5 weeks preharvest, early-ripening, pink-stage fruit only, 2) about 1 week preharvest, both late-ripening, pink-stage fruit and early-ripening fruit now fully ripe, and 3) commercial harvest, composite of early- and late-maturing fruit. SSC increased in response to soil moisture stress induced by deficit irrigation, with late-maturing fruit as much as 1.6 °brix higher than fruit maturing before significant soil moisture stress. However, once a fruit reached the pink stage of maturity, its SSC was not affected by subsequent soil moisture stress. An additional five commercial field trials were conducted to compare growers' irrigation practices with greater degrees of deficit irrigation. In each field the grower's deficit irrigation regime was compared to a reduced treatment receiving 25% to 50% less water over the final 4 to 7 weeks before harvest. Across fields, applying 20% to 60% of reference evapotranspiration (ETo) over the fruit ripening period resulted in acceptable SSC without significant brix yield reduction. We conclude that deficit irrigation initiated during early fruit ripening provides a flexible tool for SSC management. Brix monitoring of earliest ripening fruit can help classify fields as to the severity of irrigation deficit required to reach desirable SSC at harvest.

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T.K. Hartz, P.R. Johnstone, D.M. Francis, and E.M. Miyao

The effect of K fertigation through subsurface irrigation lines on processing tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) fruit yield and quality was evaluated in four field trials in California from 2002–04. Fields had exchangeable soil K between 0.48 to 0.85 cmol·kg–1, with high exchangeable Mg (10.6 to 13.7 cmol·kg–1) and a history of yellow shoulder (YS, a fruit color disorder) occurrence. K treatments evaluated included seasonal amount applied (0 to 800 kg·ha–1), fertigation method (continuous versus weekly), and timing (early, mid or late season); foliar K treatments were also included in the 2002 trial. In two fields total and marketable fruit yield were significantly increased by K fertigation, and fruit color improvements were observed in all trials. Among color parameters improved by K fertigation were YS incidence, blended color, and L*, chroma, and hue of the shoulder region of fruit. K fertigation did not affect fruit soluble solids concentration. Yield increased only with fertigation treatments initiated during early fruit set. The effects of fertigation method and rate were inconsistent. Foliar K application was ineffective in increasing either fruit yield or quality.

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T.K. Hartz, P.R. Johnstone, E.M. Miyao, and R.M. Davis

Mustard (Brassica spp.) cover crop residue has been reported to have significant `biofumigant' action when incorporated into soil, potentially providing disease suppression and yield improvement for the succeeding crop. The effects of growing over-winter mustard cover crops preceding processing tomato (Lycopersicon escultentum Mill.) production were investigated in six field trials in the Sacramento Valley of California from 2002–04. A selection of mustard cover crops were compared to a legume cover crop mix, a fallow-bed treatment (the current grower practice in the region), and in two of the six trials, fumigation treatments using metam sodium. Mustard cover crops removed 115 to 350 kg·ha–1 N from the soil profile, reducing NO3-N leaching potential. Soil populations of Verticillium dahliae Kleb. and Fusarium spp. were unaffected by the cover crops, and there was no evidence of soilborne disease suppression on subsequent tomato crops. Mustard cover crops increased tomato yield in one field, and reduced yield in two fields. In one of two fields, metam sodium fumigation significantly increased tomato yield. We conclude that, while environmental benefits may be achieved, mustard cover cropping offers no immediate agronomic benefit for processing tomato production.

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T.K. Hartz, C. Giannini, E.M. Miyao, and J.G. Valencia

The effect of transplant production and handling practices on processing tomato growth, yield, and fruit quality were evaluated in five field trials in California. In 1999, processing tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill. cv. Halley) transplants were obtained from a number of commercial transplant producers and taken to the Univ. of California-Davis (UCD) where treatments were imposed for 1 week prior to transplanting. Treatments included N and P fertilization, exposure to lath house or greenhouse temperature, withholding water, and storage in the dark for 2 days to simulate shipment from greenhouse to field. Nine treatments per site were compared in field trials at Yolo, Woodland, and Knights Landing. In 2000, transplants were grown at UCD under varying nutrient regimes, including P fertilization rates ranging from weekly application of 0 to 90 mg·L-1. Two commercial field trials comparing 8 treatments were conducted near Winters and Newman. Although transplant production and handling practices significantly influenced relative growth rate in the 3-4 weeks following transplanting in all 1999 trials, effects on fruit yield were minimal, with only one treatment at Woodland showing significantly lower yield and no treatment differences in crop maturity, fruit soluble solids, or juice color observed at any site. In 2000, plants receiving no weekly P fertilization showed slower growth in the 3 weeks after transplanting, but no treatment differences were observed after 6 weeks. Fruit yield, soluble solids content (°Brix) and juice color were unaffected by transplant treatment. We conclude that transplant production and handling practices tested had minimal differential effect on the subsequent field performance of processing tomato transplants in the Central Valley of California.

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P.R. Johnstone, T.K. Hartz, M.D. Cahn, and M.R. Johnstone

Decades of heavy phosphorus (P) fertilization of vegetable crops in the Salinas Valley of California has increased soil test P (STP) levels, with bicarbonate-extractable P (Pbc) values >50 mg·kg–1 now common. To evaluate the response of lettuce (Lactuca sativa L.) to P fertilization in fields with elevated STP levels, 12 trials were conducted in commercial fields during 2002–03. Initial Pbc at the trial sites varied from 53 to 171 mg·kg–1. In each trial, four replicate plots receiving the growers' P application were compared with paired plots in which no P was applied. Leaf P was monitored at midseason and at harvest. At harvest, mean whole and marketable plant mass and percent of marketable plants were recorded. A significant increase in lettuce yield with P fertilization was achieved at only one trial site, a spring planting with 54 mg·kg–1 Pbc; at all other sites, including three with Pbc <60 mg·kg–1, P application resulted in no significant yield increase. Phosphorus application resulted in only a marginal increase in plant P uptake; in the nonresponsive fields leaf P concentration of nonfertilized plots was in excess of established sufficiency levels. In a laboratory study, the correlation of Pbc to bioavailable P (Pba) was evaluated using 30 representative Salinas Valley soils; Pbc varied among these soils from 15 to 177 mg·kg–1. Pba was estimated by P adsorption on an anion resin membrane during a 16 hour incubation. The effect of temperature on P bioavailability in six of these soils was estimated by conducting the Pba incubation at 5, 15, and 25 °C. Pba was highly correlated with Pbc (r = 0.89), and increased about 40% across soils with each 10 °C increase in soil temperature. Therefore, Pbc was determined to be an accurate reflection of bioavailable P in these soils, although the addition of a temperature correction factor in setting threshold values is desirable.

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T.K. Hartz*, P.R. Johnstone, M. LeStrange, J.J. Nunez, and E.M. Miyao

Soluble solids concentration (SSC) is a major quality factor for tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) grown for processing. The effects of early irrigation cutback were investigated in a series of drip-irrigated field trials in California from 2000-03. Irrigation cutback was initiated from 4-7 weeks preharvest, with irrigation volume reduced to 30% to 70% of reference evapotranspiration. Early irrigation cutback was compared to full irrigation until cutoff 2-3 weeks preharvest. SSC was monitored from the initiation of deficit irrigation until harvest, with breaker-stage fruit sampled at approximately 10-day intervals; additionally, early-maturing fruits were tagged on the plant at breaker stage and retrieved at harvest for SSC analysis. Fruit yield, overall SSC, and brix yield (Mg·ha-1 fruit solids) were evaluated at commercial maturity. Fruit SSC increased in response to soil moisture stress, with late-maturing fruit as much as 2.0 °Brix higher than fruit maturing before significant moisture stress. However, once a fruit reached the breaker stage of maturity, its SSC did not increase regardless of subsequent soil moisture stress. Across field trials, yield decline resulting from early irrigation cutback was matched by a corresponding increase in overall SSC, resulting in equivalent brix yield in all test fields. We conclude that the early irrigation cutback provides a flexible tool for SSC management and that °Brix monitoring of breaker-stage fruit can augment soil moisture monitoring to tune irrigation management to field-specific conditions.

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H.H. Krusekopf, J.P. Mitchell, T.K. Hartz, D.M. May, E.M. Miyao, and M.D. Cahn

Overuse of chemical N fertilizers has been linked to nitrate contamination of both surface and ground water. Excessive use of fertilizer also is an economic loss to the farmer. Typical N application rates for processing tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) production in California are 150 to 250 kg·ha-1. The contributions of residual soil NO3-N and in-season N mineralization to plant nutrient status are generally not included in fertilizer input calculations, often resulting in overuse of fertilizer. The primary goal of this research was to determine if the pre-sidedress soil nitrate test (PSNT) could identify fields not requiring sidedress N application to achieve maximum tomato yield; a secondary goal was to evaluate tissue N testing currently used for identifying post-sidedress plant N deficiencies. Field experiments were conducted during 1998 and 1999. Pre-sidedress soil nitrate concentrations were determined to a depth of 60 cm at 10 field sites. N mineralization rate was estimated by aerobic incubation test. Sidedress fertilizer was applied at six incremental rates from 0 to 280 kg·ha-1 N, with six replications per field. At harvest, only four fields showed a fruit yield response to fertilizer application. Within the responsive fields, fruit yields were not increased with sidedress N application above 112 kg·ha-1. Yield response to sidedress N did not occur in fields with pre-sidedress soil NO3-N levels >16 mg·kg-1. Soil sample NO3-N levels from 30 cm and 60 cm sampling depth were strongly correlated. Mineralization was estimated to contribute an average of 60 kg·ha-1 N between sidedressing and harvest. Plant tissue NO3-N concentration was found to be most strongly correlated to plant N deficiency at fruit set growth stage. Dry petiole NO3-N was determined to be a more accurate indicator of plant N status than petiole sap NO3-N measured by a nitrate-selective electrode. The results from this study suggested that N fertilizer inputs could be reduced substantially below current industry norms without reducing yields in fields identified by the PSNT as having residual pre-sidedress soil NO3-N levels >16 mg·kg-1 in the top 60 cm.

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H.H. Krusekopf, J.P. Mitchell, T.K. Hartz, D.M. May, E.M. Miyao, and M.D. Cahn

Overuse of chemical N fertilizers has been linked to nitrate contamination of both surface and ground water. Excessive fertilizer use is also an economic loss to the farmer. Typical N application rates for processing tomato production in California's Central Valley are 150-250 kg·ha-1, and growers generally fail to fully consider the field-specific effects of residual soil NO3-N concentration, or N mineralization potential of the soil. The purpose of this research was to determine the effects of sidedress N fertilizer application, residual soil NO3-N, and in-season N mineralization, on processing tomato yield. Research was conducted during the 1998 and 1999 growing seasons at 16 field sites. Pre-sidedress soil nitrate concentration was determined at each trial site to a depth of 1 m, and aerobic incubation tests were conducted on these soils (top 0.3 m depth) to estimate N mineralization rate. Sidedress fertilizer was applied at six incremental rates from 0 to 280 kg N/ha, with six replications of each treatment per field. Only five fields showed yield response to fertilizer application; yield response to fertilizer was associated with lower pre-sidedress soil nitrate levels. In most fields with fertilizer response, yield was not increased with sidedress N application above 56 kg·ha-1. Mineralization was estimated to contribute an average of ≈60 kg N/ha between sidedressing and harvest. These results suggest that N fertilizer inputs could be reduced substantially below current industry norms without lowering yields, especially in fields with higher residual soil nitrate levels.

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J.P. Mitchell, P.B. Goodell, T.S. Prather, R.L. Coviello, T.K. Hartz, K.J. Hembree, D.S. Munk, D.M. May, F. Menezes, K. Grimes, J. Diener, and T. O'Neill

In Fall 1995, 12 row crop farmers in conjunction with Univ. of California, NRCS and private agency advisors established the West Side On-Farm Demonstration Project to conduct demonstrations of soil and pest management options aimed at sustained profitability and environmental stewardship in the western San Joaquin Valley of California. Monitoring of soil physical, chemical, and biological properties is done in side-by-side on-farm comparisons of plots amended with organic inputs and unamended plots. Intensive monitoring of beneficial and pest insects is carried out within each comparison block, and the data generated is used to guide pest management decision-making at each site. Yields and soil characteristics of the amended plots did not differ from those of unamended plots after the first year. The on-farm context and the cooperative farmer–scientist interactions of this project facilitate the development of timely and relevant research directions to be pursued beyond the core set of monitoring activities.