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Aref A. Abdul-Baki, J.R. Teasdale, R. Korcak, D.J. Chitwood and R.N. Huettel

A low-input sustainable agricultural system for the production of staked, fresh-market field tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) is described. The system uses winter annual cover crops to fix N, recycle leftover nutrients, produce biomass, and prevent soil erosion throughout the winter and spring. Yields of tomato plants grown in hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth), crimson clover (Trifolium incarnatum L.), and rye (Secale cereale L.) plus hairy vetch mulches were higher than those grown in the conventional black polyethylene (BP) mulch system in 2 of 3 years. Fruit were heavier with the plant mulches than with BP mulch. Eight weeks after transplanting, N levels in tomato leaves were higher with plant than with BP mulch, although the plant mulch plots received only 50% of the N applied to the BP plots. The cover crops had no effect on populations of five phytoparasitic nematode species.

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Aref A. Abdul-Baki, J.R. Teasdale, R. Korcak, D. Chitwood and R Huettle

Fresh-market tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill) cvs. Sunny and Sunbeam were grown in bare soil (BS), Horto paper (HP), black polyethylene (BP), hairy vetch (HV), crimson clover (CC), and hairy vetch plus rye (HVR) mulches. Yields were highest in HV (85.8 t·ha–1), followed by HVR 69.3 t·ha–1) and CC (65.7 t·ha–1), and averaged 47% above BP for the 3-year period. A 5- to 9-day earliness was exhibited by BP over other treatments. Fruit weight was significantly higher in all three organic mulch treatments than in the other three treatments. Mulch biomass was highest in HVR (5.91 t·ha–1), whereas N fixation was highest in HV (188 kg·ha–1). Tomato harvest was extended by the HV treatment over the BP treatment by 3 to 4 weeks, during which tomato prices were higher than those in early or mid-season.

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D.J. Mills, C.B. Coffman, J.R. Teasdale, J.D. Anderson and K.L. Everts

In the production of fresh-market vegetables, off-farm inputs, such as, plastic, nitrogen fertilizer, fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides are routinely used. One aim of the sustainable agriculture program at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center is to develop systems that reduce these inputs. We have completed the second year of a study designed to examine foliar disease progress, foliar disease management, and marketable fruit yield in staked fresh-market tomatoes grown in low- and high-input production systems. Specifically, four culture practices (black plastic mulch, hairy vetch mulch, dairy manure compost, and bare ground) were compared in conjunction with three foliar disease management treatments (no fungicide, weekly fungicide, and a foliar disease forecasting model, TOMCAST). Within all culture practices, use of the TOMCAST model reduced fungicide input nearly 50%, compared with the weekly fungicide treatment, without compromising productivity or disease management. With regard to disease level, a significant reduction of early blight disease severity within the hairy vetch mulch was observed in 1997 in relation to the other culture practices. Early blight disease severity within the black plastic and hairy vetch mulches was significantly less than that observed in the bare ground and compost treatments in 1998. In addition, despite a 50 % reduction in synthetic nitrogen input, the hairy vetch mulch generated yields of marketable fruit comparable to or greater than the other culture practices. It appears that low-input, sustainable, production systems can be developed that reduce the dependence on off-farm inputs of plastic, nitrogen fertilizer, and pesticides, yet generate competitive yields.

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John R. Teasdale, Aref A. Abdul-Baki and William J.E. Potts

Dry weight and leaf area of tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) plants grown on raised beds with black polyethylene (BP) or hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth) (HV) mulches were measured at weekly intervals during 1993 and 1994. Leaf area and foliage, fruit, and total weight of tomato plants grown in BP were greater early in the season, but less later in the season than plants grown in HV. The relative growth rate of tomatoes in HV was higher throughout most of each year than that in BP. There was little difference between treatments in unit leaf rate (rate of weight gain per unit leaf area). The growth rate of fruit per unit of tomato foliage was greater in BP than HV, whereas the leaf area to weight ratio was greater in HV than BP. These results suggest that tomatoes grown in BP produce greater early yield because of greater early foliage growth and greater partitioning to fruit than HV. However, tomatoes grown in HV eventually outgrow and outyield those in BP because of greater partitioning to and maintenance of leaf area throughout the season.