To many consumers, the tomato has become an indicator of food system health. Or – in the minds of foodies everywhere – the embodiment of a food system that’s lost its flavour. Indeed, this high-value crop is in great demand and tastes best when grown close to where it’s consumed. However, use of conventional fertilizers is thought to have robbed the tomato of its true taste.
Plant Science graduate student Greg Rekken and Dr. Andrew Riseman, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems, have taken their quest for the perfect tasting local tomato to the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at UBC Farm, where they have embedded their research into the Farm’s existing production system.
With the goal of developing a sustainable organic nutrient management system for tomato hoop house production, a range of local and farm-derived fertilizers were assessed. Alternative fertilizers included a green manure (i.e., hairy vetch), composted poultry manure, and a kelp-based liquid fertilizer.
Preliminary results indicate these sustainable fertilizers produced high-quality tomatoes in sufficient quantities to be economically viable. Additional analyses on fruit traits will include sugar and protein content as well as total soluble solids.
Through this research, Rekken and Dr. Riseman hope to inform farmers about the options available regarding alternative fertilizers that can improve their production systems and farm-wide sustainability while keeping costs down. Additionally, this project demonstrates how research and production goals can be synergistic, enabling farmers and researchers to quantify ways of improving their farming practices without a loss in production.