NCSU hosts greenhouse tomato workshop

A greenhouse tomato producer from Arizona sees a virus on her tomatoes each year. Miles away in the same state, a University of Arizona lecturer has yet to find the disease in the university's greenhouse. But at the end of a Pest Management Strategic Plan workshop held at North Carolina State University, both agree that research on the virus is a priority for the nation.

Concerned about the scarcity of research into pest management alternatives for greenhouse tomatoes, Mary Peet, North Carolina State University horticultural science professor, recently organized and led a workshop to create a national pest management strategic plan for greenhouse tomatoes. The workshop was held at the Southern Region IPM Center on North Carolina State's Centennial Campus.

Pest Management Strategic Plans list pest control methods, including biological, cultural and chemical methods, and define priorities for researchers, Extension personnel and regulatory agencies.

The finished documents tell federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture which pests can damage the commodity, what pest management methods typically control those pests, and what kinds of resources will help growers manage pests.

While other fruits and vegetables have been the subject of university research, greenhouse tomatoes have long been ignored, said Peet.

"Even when research funds and personnel were available for other vegetables at land- grant colleges in the U.S., there wasn't much research on greenhouse tomatoes," Peet said. "Greenhouse tomatoes are unique and unusual; they're very different in many ways from field tomatoes. There has been practically nobody to work on greenhouse tomatoes from the research, teaching or Extension areas."

Within the last 10 years, however, interest in greenhouse tomatoes has been growing, both within the consumer industry and among farmers. Not only do they have a nearly year-round growing season, but they also can be sold locally to markets and schools.

"Greenhouse tomatoes comprise about 43 percent of the value of tomatoes sold in supermarkets," said Peet. "It's a much more important part of the retail produce industry, and the growth from the early 1990s, when greenhouse tomatoes weren't even reported separately, has been phenomenal."

Thanks to a $25,000 Southern Region IPM Center enhancement grant, Peet gathered a group of Extension specialists, researchers and growers of greenhouse tomatoes from around the U.S. to discuss the effectiveness of pest control methods currently being used in the greenhouse and those that might be used, if additional research and labels were available.

Although Peet had originally intended the workshop to include only southern region participants, the Southern Region IPM Center recommended changing the scope to include the entire U.S. Workshop participants came from as far as Arizona and Washington state, and as close as the North Carolina State campus.

As participants discussed the efficacy of some of the recommended chemical treatments for pest control, differences emerged not only between different regions, but also between large and small greenhouse growers.

As the day concluded with lists of priorities for research, education and regulatory agencies, differences evaporated. Everyone agreed that greenhouse tomatoes deserve more public attention. In addition, many felt pesticide labels should specify use for greenhouse tomatoes rather than assuming similarities with field tomato pest management.

The completed document will recommend areas in which research and Extension efforts are needed. But Peet is confident it will springboard other funding opportunities and attract researchers looking for topics in horticulture.

"We need to go through this process to find out what growers need before we can prioritize our research and Extension needs," Peet said.

"This meeting, which involved only 25 people, is just the beginning. We hope to get feedback from other greenhouse growers, specialists and advisors before finalizing the document. There has been a lot of interest from around the country in the workshop, but not everyone interested was able to attend."

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