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Olya Rysin and Frank J. Louws

Grafting could potentially become an important part of integrated pest management programs in vegetable crops in the United States due to increased pathogen densities, reliance on pathogen susceptible varieties, increased use of organic and high tunnel production systems, limited land or input resources, value-added benefits, and the loss of, or regulatory restrictions on, soil fumigants. Adoption of this technology imposes additional costs on growers due to significantly higher grafted transplant prices, but associated yield improvements are potentially more than sufficient to offset the higher transplant costs. Therefore, the economic impact of the technology adoption depends highly on the specific circumstances of each grower. In this study, we propose a decision tool for growers to facilitate grafting technology adoption. We demonstrate an application of the proposed tool to a scenario based on real-life data for the open-field production of tomato (Solanum lycopersicum). The results show that based on a 30% loss in marketable yields due to disease pressure in nongrafted systems, yield improvements in the grafted system with resistant rootstock were sufficient to offset higher transplant and harvesting costs and resulted in higher net revenues. Net revenue estimates were $7126/acre in the nongrafted system and $8374/acre in the grafted system. The sensitivity analysis resulted in positive net revenues in the grafted system ranging from $108 to $12,328 per acre. Estimated marketable yield required in the grafted system to breakeven with the nongrafted system was 73,880 or 19,980 lb/acre more than marketable yield in the nongrafted system.

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Cary L. Rivard and Frank J. Louws

Organic heirloom tomato production is limited in the southeastern United States by foliar and soilborne diseases, thermal stress, and weathered soil structure. Heirloom cultivars command a premium market, but tolerance to disease and abiotic stress is often poor. Organic growers need research that supports the advantages of market niches afforded by heirloom tomatoes through the development of integrated systems to manage pests and reduce risks of associated crop losses or low yields. Two major soilborne diseases common in the southeast, bacterial wilt (caused by Ralstonia solanacearum) and fusarium wilt (caused by Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. lycopersici), were effectively managed using susceptible heirloom scions grafted onto resistant rootstock. In naturally infested soil, bacterial wilt incidence for nongrafted ‘German Johnson’ was 79% and 75% in 2005 and 2006, respectively. ‘German Johnson’ showed no symptoms of bacterial wilt in either year when grafted onto the resistant genotypes CRA 66 or Hawaii 7996. Fusarium wilt incidence was 46% and 50%, respectively, in nongrafted and self-grafted ‘German Johnson’ controls. When ‘Maxifort’ rootstock was grafted with ‘German Johnson’, no symptoms of fusarium wilt were seen, and plants with ‘Robusta’ rootstock had an intermediate level of disease (29%). An evaluation of commercially available rootstock was carried out in three separate experiments in diverse organic production systems to determine yield impacts with low disease pressure. ‘Maxifort’ rootstock significantly increased yield in one location (P = 0.05), but ‘Maxifort’ and ‘Robusta’ rootstock did not consistently impact yield at the other two locations. Grafting is an effective management tool for organic growers in the southeast United States to reduce risk of crop loss resulting from soilborne diseases and will be a valuable component in an integrated pest management program.

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Gina E. Fernandez, Laura M. Butler and Frank J. Louws

Strawberry (Fragaria × ananassa) `Chandler' plants from three sources were grown in the annual hill plasticulture system during two growing seasons (1996-97 and 1997-98). These trials evaluated the yield and vegetative performance of bareroot plants from Prince Edward Island and Ontario, Canada, and plug plant tips that were rooted in North Carolina but obtained from Ontario Canada. At the end of the season, total and marketable yields and fruit weight were not different among the plant sources. In addition, plants from all three plant sources produced equivalent yields on a weekly basis. Monthly whole plant harvests revealed that plant source did not affect leaf area, root, crown, leaf, flower or fruit dry weight during most of the growing season. In addition, plant growth parameters (specific leaf area, leaf area ratio, leaf weight ratio, and root to shoot ratio) in general did not differ among plant source in any 1 month. Plant growth did show shifts in dry weight allocation and leaf area as the season progressed that were uniform among plant sources, with the majority of the growth occurring in the spring in the two months prior to harvest. This uniformity among plant sources will allow future research to emphasize plant production practices that may reduce the risk of pest and disease problems or optimize production practices favored by growers.

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David H. Suchoff, Christopher C. Gunter and Frank J. Louws

At its most basic, grafting is the replacement of one root system with another containing more desirable traits. Grafting of tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) onto disease-resistant rootstocks is an increasingly popular alternative for managing economically damaging soilborne diseases. Although certain rootstocks have demonstrated ancillary benefits in the form of improved tolerance to edaphic abiotic stress, the mechanisms behind the enhanced stress tolerance are not well understood. Specific traits within root system morphology (RSM), in both field crops and vegetables, can improve growth in conditions under abiotic stress. A greenhouse study was conducted to compare the RSM of 17 commercially available tomato rootstocks and one commercial field cultivar (Florida-47). Plants were grown in containers filled with a mixture of clay-based soil conditioner and pool filter sand (2:1 v/v) and harvested at 2, 3, or 4 weeks after emergence. At harvest, roots were cleaned, scanned, and analyzed with an image analysis system. Data collected included total root length (TRL), average root diameter, specific root length (SRL), and relative diameter class. The main effect of cultivar was significant (P ≤ 0.05) for all response variables and the main effect of harvest date was only significant (P ≤ 0.01) for TRL. ‘RST-106’ rootstock had the longest TRL, whereas ‘Beaufort’ had the shortest. ‘BHN-1088’ had the thickest average root diameter, which was 32% thicker than the thinnest, observed in ‘Beaufort’. SRL in ‘Beaufort’ was 60% larger than ‘BHN-1088’. This study demonstrated that gross differences exist in RSM of tomato rootstocks and that, when grown in a solid porous medium, these differences can be determined using an image analysis system.

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Gina E. Fernandez, Laura M. Butler and Frank J. Louws

The growth and development of three strawberry cultivars commonly grown in a plasticulture system were documented. Strawberry plants were harvested monthly and divided by roots, crown, leaves, flowers, and fruit and then dried in an oven. The dry matter production and resource allocation proceeded along a predictable pattern of development. The establishment phase was characterized by an active period of growth of root, crown and leaves in the fall. Through the winter, the plants underwent slow growth, ending in a transition period in the late winter/early spring when resources were allocated to both vegetative and reproductive growth. In the spring, all plant parts received significantly increased allocation of, or redistribution of, resources. Cultivars of California origin, `Chandler' and `Camarosa', displayed similar trends in yield, dry matter production, seasonal resource allocation, and growth analysis variables throughout the season. `Sweet Charlie', a cultivar from Florida, showed lower dry matter accumulation and relative growth rate in the spring, higher harvest index and lower yield than the California cultivars.

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David H. Suchoff, Jonathan R. Schultheis, Matthew D. Kleinhenz, Frank J. Louws and Christopher C. Gunter

The following study was conducted to address water use efficiency in grafted tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) in an on-farm environment. The commercial rootstock cultivars Beaufort (BE) and Shield (S) were chosen as these two have different root system morphologies that may benefit water use efficiency. The heirloom cultivar Cherokee Purple (CP) was grafted onto both rootstocks and used as the nongrafted control. The study was conducted in 2016 and 2017 on a 5-acre vegetable and cut flower farm in North Carolina’s Piedmont region. Plants were grown under protected, high-tunnel culture where they received either 100% (3 hours every other day) or 50% (1.5 hours every other day) of the grower’s normal irrigation regime. At 50% irrigation, ‘Beaufort’-grafted plants yielded significantly more than nongrafted ‘Cherokee Purple’ and ‘Shield’-grafted plants. Furthermore, ‘Beaufort’-grafted plants at 50% irrigation yielded more than nongrafted ‘Cherokee Purple’ receiving the 100% irrigation treatment. The ‘Beaufort’-grafted plants significantly improved irrigation water use efficiency (iWUE) at the 50% irrigation treatment compared with the other graft treatments. Yield and iWUE of ‘Shield’-grafted plants were comparable with the nongrafted ‘Cherokee Purple’ at both irrigation treatments. Regardless of irrigation treatment, grafting onto ‘Beaufort’ improved the quality of total fruit harvested. An economic assessment was conducted to determine the feasibility of using grafted plants in conditions lacking significant disease pressure. Purchasing grafted transplants would increase the initial investment by $5227.2 per acre. However, the increased yield obtained when using ‘Beaufort’ rootstock at 50% irrigation increased net revenue by $35,900.41 per acre compared with nongrafted ‘Cherokee Purple’ receiving 100% irrigation, amounting to a 44.6% increase in net revenue while saving ≈383,242 gal/acre of water per growing season. These results indicate that growers can select rootstocks to better manage water use in an environmentally friendly manner without limiting economic gains.

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David H Suchoff, Christopher C. Gunter, Jonathan R. Schultheis, Matthew D. Kleinhenz and Frank J. Louws

Improvement of crop water use is imperative. Plants’ responses to limited water can dictate their ability to better use available resources and avoid prolonged and severe stress. The following study was conducted to determine how tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) rootstocks with different root system morphologies respond to drying soils. Plants were grown in pots containing an inorganic substrate composed of calcined clay and sand in a greenhouse on North Carolina State University’s campus. The heirloom tomato cultivar Cherokee Purple was used as the scion for ‘Beaufort’ and ‘Shield’ rootstocks as well as the self-grafted control. These rootstocks were assigned either normal or reduced irrigation treatments. Plants grown under the normal irrigation schedule were weighed and watered daily to maintain container capacity for one week. Those receiving reduced irrigation had all water withheld for one week, at which point strong midday wilting became evident. Shoot physiological and morphological data as well as root morphological data were collected at the end of the study. A constitutive positive increase on relative water content, leaf area, stomatal conductance (g S), and net CO2 assimilation rate was observed with scions grafted on ‘Beaufort’. In addition, this rootstock had a significantly longer total root system (118.6 m) compared with ‘Shield’ (94.9 m) and the self-grafted control (104.2 m). Furthermore, 76.4% of the total root length observed in ‘Beaufort’ was composed of very thin diameter roots ( <0.5 mm), which was higher than ‘Shield’ (73.67%) and the self-grafted control (69.07%). The only significant rootstock irrigation interaction observed was for effective quantum yield of photosystem II (φPSII). At normal irrigation there were no differences among the rootstock treatments; however, at reduced irrigation ‘Beaufort’ had significantly higher φPSII than both ‘Shield’ and the self-grafted control. These results may explain some of the improved production and water use efficiency observed in field trials using ‘Beaufort’ rootstock, and data secured may allow for better screening of rootstocks for improved water use efficiency in the future.

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Leonor F.S. Leandro, Lisa M. Ferguson, Frank J. Louws and Gina E. Fernandez

Strawberry (Fragaria ×ananassa Duchnesne) growth and productivity were compared in fumigated and nonfumigated production systems. Strawberry transplants grown in potting mix amended with Trichoderma hamatum (Bonord.) Bainier, strain T382, Trichoderma harzianum Rifai, strain T22, or untreated, were planted in field plots treated with compost, compost amended with T. hamatum strain T382, Telone-C35, or not treated. Plants were sampled throughout the growing season, and dry weights of roots, crowns, leaves, flowers and fruit, leaf area, and total and marketable yield were determined. Trichoderma amendments to the potting mix improved plant dry weight and leaf area of strawberry transplants in the first year and suppressed root rot incidence in the second year but did not affect plant growth or disease incidence once the plants were set in the field. Field plants in fumigated plots had greater root, leaf, and crown dry weights, leaf area, and yield compared with plants in the other soil treatments. We conclude that Trichoderma amendments (1) alone had little benefit to plug plant growth and (2) in combination with compost, had no benefit to strawberry plant growth in the field. The task remains to develop a reliable and sustainable strawberry production system that does not rely on chemical fumigants.

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Olya Rysin, Amanda McWhirt, Gina Fernandez, Frank J. Louws and Michelle Schroeder-Moreno

In this study, we investigate the economic viability and environmental impact of three different soil management systems used for strawberry (Fragaria ×ananassa) production in the southeastern United States: 1) a conventional production system that is based on the current production practices implemented by growers, 2) a nonfumigated compost system with summer cover crop rotations and beneficial soil inoculants, and 3) an organic production system that includes practices approved for use under the National Organic Program (NOP). Under our assumptions, all three systems resulted in positive net returns estimated at $14,979, $11,100, and $19,394 per acre, respectively. The nonfumigated compost system and organic system also both resulted in considerable reductions in negative environmental and human health impacts measured by a set of selected indicators. For example, the total number of lethal doses (LD50) applied per acre from all chemicals used in each system and measuring acute human risk associated with each system declined from 118,000 doses/acre in the conventional system to 6649 doses/acre in the compost system and to 0 doses/acre in the organic system. Chronic human health risk, groundwater pollution risk, and fertilizer use declined as well in the compost and organic systems as compared with the conventional system.

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Cary L. Rivard, Olha Sydorovych, Suzanne O'Connell, Mary M. Peet and Frank J. Louws

The grafting of herbaceous vegetables is an emerging development in the United States. This report provides an estimate of the variable costs of grafting within U.S. tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) transplant production systems. Grafted and nongrafted plants were propagated at two commercial farming operations in Ivanhoe, NC (NC) and Strasburg, PA (PA) and the farm in NC produced certified organic transplants. Detailed economic production sequences were generated for each site, and grafted and nongrafted transplant production costs were $0.59 and $0.13 in NC, and $1.25 and $0.51 in PA, respectively. Direct costs associated with grafting (e.g., grafting labor, clips, chamber, etc.) accounted for 37% to 38% of the added cost of grafting, and grafting labor was 11.1% to 14.4% of the cost of grafted transplant production. Seed costs represented 52% and 33% of the added cost of grafting at the two sites, and indirect costs (e.g., soil, trays, and heating) accounted for 10% and 30% of the added cost of grafting. Our findings suggest that under current seed prices and with similar production practices, the feasibility of grafting in the United States is not disproportionately affected by domestic labor costs. Additionally, the economic models presented in this report identify the cost of production at various transplant stages, and provide a valuable tool for growers interested in grafted tomato transplant production and utilization.