Monday, April 27, 2009

Tomato Grafting Workshop at Southwest Center

Everyone's in a stir about tomato grafting, as I've received quite a few phone calls about the producer info about the techniques and who to call for advice. What a great time to have a workshop in southwest Missouri on grafting on tomatoes.

Tomato Grafting Workshop at Southwest Center
By Patrick Byers and Andrew Thomas

While many of us are aware of the benefits and necessity of grafting fruit and nut tree crops, vegetable grafting is not yet widespread or well-known in the US. The idea of grafting tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, squash, and even watermelon seems far-fetched, but in reality is one of the most exciting and promising recent trends in horticulture. Vegetable grafting is relatively easy to learn and the benefits can be enormous. So that Missouri vegetable growers can keep up with and take advantage of this rapidly-developing technology, we are hosting a Tomato Grafting Workshop at the Southwest Center, Mt. Vernon, MO, on Wednesday, May 6, from 8:30 to 12:00 noon. The registration fee for the workshop is $8.00.

Several diseases can cause economic damage to commercial tomato producers in Missouri, and can also devastate home garden tomatoes. For commercial producers, tomato disease management is a significant production cost. In some cases pesticide inputs are used to manage disease problems; in other cases, there is no adequate pesticide solution for a disease. Additionally, certified organic tomato producers do not have the option to manage disease with pesticides. An important development for tomato growers was the release by breeders of hybrid cultivars with genetic resistance to a range of pathogens, including fusarium wilt, verticillium wilt, bacterial wilt, and nematodes. Diseases that severely limited production could now be managed by cultivar selection. More recently, however, breeders have taken this one big step further, by developing extremely vigorous, disease- and nematode-resistant rootstocks that are specifically selected for these characteristics rather than for fruit production, taste, or quality. By grafting desirable fruit-producing cultivars onto these new rootstocks, yields can be substantially increased while diseases and use of pesticides can be substantially reduced. In recent years interest has grown in the production of heirloom tomato cultivars that offer unusual and unique shapes, colors, and flavors. Unfortunately, these heirloom cultivars generally do not have the disease resistance that is found in “modern” cultivars, and losses to disease are often severe. Grafting weak, disease-susceptible cultivars such as heirlooms onto vigorous, disease-resistant rootstocks can sometimes make the difference between a bountiful crop or no crop at all.

Vegetable grafting is widely used in Asia, where 95% of many commercial vegetable crops are grafted. Korean scientists have even developed grafting robots that can graft hundreds of plants per hour. Vegetable grafting makes so much sense that it is rapidly gaining acceptance in other parts of the world, including the US. While the grafting process requires skill and adequate facilities, with training farmers can develop proficiency in the process, and research has demonstrated that a high rate of success can be expected with affordable facilities.

At the May 6 Tomato Grafting Workshop, Dr. Sanjun Gu, state extension vegetable crop specialist and experienced vegetable grafter from Lincoln University, will demonstrate techniques to workshop participants, who will then practice with heirloom tomatoes and tomato rootstocks. Each participant will be provided with supplies, tomato scions of several heirloom cultivars, and tomato rootstocks. A postoperative healing chamber will be available at the Southwest Center, and participants can pick up their healed plants a few days after the workshop, or take them home that day. In addition, plots of grafted heirloom tomatoes will be established this summer at the Southwest Center for observation.

Pre-registration is highly recommended, as we will limit the workshop to 40 participants. To register, contact MUExtension-Greene County, 833 N. Boonville, Springfield, MO 65802 or telephone 417-862-9284. The registration fee is $8.00

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