Tomatoes are an important crop for small to mid-sized farmers selling directly to customers through farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), and restaurant sales.
In a multi-year study (2014-2016), researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison evaluated 15 different tomato varieties for performance in high tunnel and open field management (marketable/unmarketable yield, average fruit weight, fruit number, and disease).
Varieties were selected based on the potential for production in organic systems and were comprised of three different genetic backgrounds (heirloom, modern and 50% heirloom/50% modern crosses). Researchers found management system (high tunnel vs. open field) to be the most important factor in determining both marketable yield and disease incidence. Although the high tunnel system improved variety performance overall, they observed differences in relative performance of some varieties between the two systems.
They also found that causes of unmarketable fruit differed greatly between the high tunnel and open field, suggesting that breeding varieties to overcome specific issues in each system might boost marketable yield beyond the season extension benefit.