DETERMINING NITROGEN RECOMMENDATIONS FOR HIGH TUNNEL GROWN ‘SCARLET RED’ FRESH MARKET TOMATOES

Open Access
Author:
Ayers, Kathleen Marie
Graduate Program:
Horticulture
Degree:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
May 04, 2017
Committee Members:
  • Robert Berghage Jr., Thesis Advisor
  • Richard P Marini, Committee Member
  • Jason Philip Kaye, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • High tunnels
  • Nitrogen
  • Plant Nutrition
  • Nutrient Recommendations
  • Tomato
  • Vegetable Production
  • Fertigation
Abstract:
High tunnels provide growers an affordable and practical means of entry into intensive and higher value fresh market tomato (Solanum lycopersicum L.) production. Environmental factors, such as temperature, humidity, and soil moisture, are more easily manipulated in high tunnels, thus increased tomato fruit quality and yield, and predictable early and late season harvests are commonly observed. Consequently, interest in high tunnels has rapidly grown. Tomatoes are the most commonly produced food crop in high tunnels across the US, though high tunnel specific nitrogen (N) fertilizer recommendations are yet to be developed. Growers currently rely on N recommendations for open-field tomato production, but yield potential and plant vigor are generally increased under high tunnels, and the environment may alter crop N needs. Tomato ‘Scarlet Red’ was grown under high tunnels in central Pennsylvania (PA) to develop N recommendations. A RCB split-plot design with three replicates was used in 2015 and 2016. Urea was applied pre-plant (0, 37.5, and 75 lbs N per acre, main plot factor) and through weekly fertigation (0, 80, 120, and 200 lbs N per acre, split-plot factor) and the effects on fruit yield, plant biomass, total leaf N and soil nitrate (NO3-N) studied. A secondary objective was to compare the pre-sidedress nitrate test (PSNT) and leaf N sampling standards to determine if PSNT could be used to determine the need for additional N in a system where soil nutrient leaching is limited and N is supplied both pre-plant and through weekly fertigation. In PA, N recommendations for open-field fresh-market tomato production are for a total of 125 lbs N per acre, with 50 lbs N per acre applied pre-plant and 75 lbs N per acre through irrigation (i.e. N fertigation) for cultivation in fine texture soils with high or optimum potassium (K) levels or organic matter (OM) content that exceeds 2%. In this study, the greatest number of fruits were harvested from plants that received 75 lbs N per acre pre-plant and a total of 80-120 lbs N per acre through fertigation. Years differed significantly in fruit marketability, and the total N recommendations for open-field production or 45 lbs N per acre less N was sufficient for marketable yield in 2016 and 2015, respectively. Unmarketable yield was greater in 2016, mostly due to blossom end rot, and was positively correlated with pre-plant N rate during the first 3 harvest weeks. Leaf N content was generally greatest in treatments that received 120 or 200 lbs N per acre through fertigation, and was significant in 2016 during the last 4 of the 6 samples taken 47, 76, 86 and 91 days after planting (DAP), and in only 2 samples (79 and 95 DAP) in 2015. Soil NO3-N results from PNST were varied, and did not strongly correlate with either pre-plant or fertigated N, however elevated soil NO3-N was sampled in 2016 compared to 2015. This study suggested that determinate tomatoes grown in high tunnels can be grown with open-field recommendations or less N, and N requirements are highly dependent on the site conditions and high tunnel management.