In addition to farming 600 acres at Furmano's Family Farms, Furmano's works with 30 tomato farmers primarily in Pennsylvania, but also in Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. Earl Lake is one of those farmers and we were at his Pennsylvania Furnace farm where about 70 acres of processing tomatoes were in the process of being planted.
Cultivars grown are primarily Heinz varieties. Furmano's goal is to have an about even split between peeling and crushing tomatoes. Peelers are used in dicing and whole tomato products, while crushers are used to make ketchup and sauces. Environmental factors also determine whether a cultivar will be used for peeling or crushing, with soft tomatoes destined for crushing. Another consideration is field storage. Cultivars grown can keep in the field for a week or 10 days and maintain excellent quality.
Five- to 6-week-old transplants in 512-celled seedling trays are bought from transplant growers in Georgia and Pennsylvania for planting. Multiple transplant growers are used to decrease the risk of issues with transplants, such as, bacterial diseases. Another way that risk is minimized is by buying 35 acres worth of "insurance plants" annually in the event that replanting is needed due to late frost killing transplants in the ground.
Flats of seedlings ready to be planted. Seedlings have a purple tinge. This is the indicator to Scott that the plants have hardened and will establish quickly.
Scott said that he prefers to have transplants that have slightly purple leaves because they experience less transplant shock. Plants are just slightly nutrient deficient or underfed and Scott mentioned that they that will seek nutrients once planted and establish quickly. Transplants are planted by an 8 person team that can plant up to 10-12 acres a day. Plants are spaced 9 ½ to 11 inches apart within a row with 56 inches between row centers for a plant population of about 12,000 plants/acre. A solution consisting of Awaken, BlackMax 22 and Regalia is applied with each transplant.
Seedlings planted on our visit. 9 ½ to 11 inches in-row spacing and 56 inches center-to-center rows are used.
Seedlings being watered by sub-irrigation before planting. Transplant solution is also being run through the green hose into the fertilizer tank.
Seedlings being placed on the transplanter.
Seedlings being placed in the carousel before being dropped and planted.
Workers following the transplanter to set any plants that were not planted correctly or were skipped.
Most fields where tomatoes are grown have access to water for irrigation. Earl uses an irrigation gun during dry periods. In fields where irrigation is not used, tomatoes tend to be smaller and harder and overall yield is decreased. Using drip irrigation results in better quality and increased tonnage and consistency. However, drip tape needs to be removed from fields before harvest. The labor required for this is cost prohibitive. Scott mentioned that he would like to find a way to mechanically roll up to 400 yards of drip tape without it snapping.
Plants are closely monitored throughout the growing season. Scott scouts the farm twice weekly, each time scouting about ½ of the acres. Earl also scouts the fields. They are looking for pest and disease problems as well monitoring plant health. Insect pests that are scouted are aphids, flea beetles, potato beetles, hornworms and spider mites. Pests and diseases are managed with pesticides, when needed.
Diagnostic services are also used. For example, before planting soil testing results are used to direct fertility management. Also, twice over the growing season leaf analysis is conducted to fine-tune fertility management.
Nutrients are sidedressed or applied to foliage, when needed. Fruit will also be analyzed to determine the effect of fertility management on fruit nutrient levels.Recording keeping is an important part of the success of this production system. Scott mentioned that they have a database to match management practices with cultivars and growing locations.
This production system results in tomato fruit yields of 50 - 55 tons/acre. We were invited back to see the plants develop over the growing season and will return for harvesting and a visit to the processing plant in September.
Thank you to Scott for the time spent and information shared with us and to Earl for allowing us to visit his farm.