News

Nov 11, 2019
Announcing the second round of the TOMI research project!

Purdue University, University of Wisconsin-Madison, North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T University, Oregon State University, and Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) are pleased to be among the recipients of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) awards announced last month. The grant was awarded through NIFA’s Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI).

The project, titled Tomato Organic Management and Improvement Project (TOMI): Part II, allows researchers to build on a previous OREI grant awarded in 2014. Through the first award, researchers were successful in advancing germplasm of new disease-resistant tomatoes and identifying microbial inoculants (i.e., biopesticides) that can reduce foliar diseases on organic farms.

“TOMI has also helped our research team discover that tomato plants have lost their ability to host beneficial microbes that help fight diseases over the course of domestication, and our current breeding practices could be making this worse,” says Lori Hoagland, a soil microbial ecologist at Purdue University and lead researcher on the project. “We also determined that biological control products vary in their potential to control diseases among regions and farms, which currently prevents organic farmers from being able to rely on these products.”

This new grant through OREI will help researchers continue to address these challenges while further supporting the development of a holistic, systems-based approach to managing diseases on organic farms. This will include furthering new disease-resistant tomato varieties that have been adapted to organic farming systems and exhibit eating qualities that consumers desire.

“Tomatoes are a popular organic crop, especially in local fresh markets,” says Micaela Colley, program director for OSA. “This project will result in varieties that provide superior flavor and nutritional qualities with the production traits farmers need, especially resistance to diseases that can cripple tomato production in areas with intense disease pressure.”

“Tomato growers will be involved in all aspects of the project and gain practical hands-on experience with soil health, disease management, and participatory breeding,” Colley adds.

Participatory plant breeding combines the practical experience of farmers with the technical expertise of formal plant breeders, resulting in more high-quality organic seed and more farmers with skills to improve their own varieties.

“By combining traditional plant breeding techniques with research aimed at identifying factors that control the composition and activity of soil and plant microbiomes, the research team hopes to develop new varieties that are better able to support beneficial microbes that help tomato plants fight diseases,” Hoagland explains. “We will do this by determining how local environments and soil management practices on organic farms alter populations of soil microbes with biocontrol activity. Then, we will determine how breeding varieties in these distinct environments affects the potential for tomato plants to support these microbes and control diseases.”

Researchers will also collaborate with farmers to improve the health and disease suppressive activity of soils on their farms, and determine why inoculants work in one place and not another. This data will help inform organic farming decisions and make disease management strategies more dependable.

The overarching goals of TOMI II include:

  • Helping organic farmers control diseases while promoting soil and environmental health, and delivering tomatoes with great flavor to local consumers;
  • Identifying existing, and breeding new, varieties that perform well under organic conditions and ensuring farmers have access to both the performance data as well as improved varieties;
  • Collaborating with organic farmers to improve the health and disease suppressive activity of their soil, and identifying biopesticides that further support disease control in areas with intense disease pressure;
  • Advancing an interdisciplinary research and outreach approach (soil microbiology, pathology, and breeding) to tackle the challenge of managing diseases on organic vegetable farms by researching plant-soil-microbial interactions; and
  • Furthering the science and practice of on-farm research and participatory plant breeding methods to manage diseases, which require a close collaboration between farmers, plant breeders, pathologists, and soil scientists to ensure project outcomes are relevant and useful.

TOMI II is an example of collaborative research in the public sector that is responding to the needs of organic farmers both regionally and nationally. Multiple partners leverage each other’s expertise in addition to the environmental conditions and climates in their respective regions.

For example, some of TOMI’s breeding trials are conducted in North Carolina where disease pressure is generally high. Farmers in other regions then benefit from these selections after other breeders involved in the project take that improved germplasm and further adapt it to very different climates, such as those in the Pacific Northwest.

In this way TOMI is working toward releasing varieties that are better adapted to changing climates, resource availability, and environmental conditions to help mitigate these risks for farmers and the food supplies they serve. Adaptation is key to achieving resilience in our food and agricultural system. This resiliency is longer lasting when more organic farmers have the skills to further adapt and improve plant genetics through seed saving and on-farm breeding, and improve the disease suppressive activity of their soils. This is why TOMI also emphasizes farmer education as a project goal.

“We can’t overstate the importance of this second round of funding for the TOMI project,” says Colley. “Programs like OREI are essential to the success of organic research and delivering improved varieties to organic growers since public cultivar development takes time and generally lacks long-term funding.”

Consecutive funding for plant breeding is critical to getting finished varieties into the hands of farmers, since it takes several years to breed new varieties. It is also critical for the development of holistic, systems-based approaches to tackling important challenges like disease management on organic farms.

Thanks to USDA-NIFA for making this project possible through grant award 2019-51300-30245.

Jan 1, 2018
TOMI collaborators walk you through the basics how-to's of growing your own tomato seed in this on-demand webinar.

Tomatoes are one of the most popular fresh market vegetables, with a rich assortment of varieties that vary in appearance, flavor, and agronomic properties. Learning how to produce your own tomato seed will help ensure that your favorite varieties will continue to be available and passed on to future generations.

This webinar provides an overview of practices needed to successfully grow quality tomato seed using organic production practices. Key topics nclude variety considerations, isolation and management practices, and fermentation, storage, and treatment practices that will maintain seed integrity and help reduce pathogen transmission.

Find the recording here

Apr 4, 2017

Effectively managing diseases is one of the biggest challenges facing organic vegetable growers. A wide range of biologically based products are now available on the market that claim to boost crop growth and help plants withstand many plant diseases. However, there are few independent, scientifically-based studies to validate the efficacy of some of these products, and instructions detailing how and when to apply these products to achieve the best results are unclear. In this webinar, participants describe the different types of products available in the marketplace today, provide an overview of recent studies evaluating their efficacy, and discuss strategies for identifying the most effective products and application practices. This webinar was organized by the NIFA OREI funded Tomato Organic Management and Improvement project.

This webinar was recorded on March 30, 2017. Presenters are Giuseppe Colla of Tuscia University in Viterbo Italy, Mariateresa Cardarelli at the Italian Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in Rome, Italy, and Dan Egel and Lori Hoagland of Purdue University. 

 

Mar 3, 2017

Organic vegetable growers need varieties that are optimally adapted to their farming systems. In this webinar, researchers from the TOMI project show how to develop and select improved vegetable varieties using tomatoes as example. The goal of the TOMI breeding team is to develop new tomato varieties that are resistant to the most problematic diseases facing organic tomato growers, and have the good fruit flavor that customers expect from heirloom varieties. Specific topics in this webinar include: identifying key traits, choosing appropriate parents and a selection approach, making crosses, selecting from segregating populations for desirable traits, using genetic markers to aid in selection for key traits, and saving seed.

This webinar was recorded on March 7, 2017. Presenters are Lori Hoagland and Dan Egel of Purdue University, Jim Myers of Oregon State University, Julie Dawson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Jared Zystro and Laurie McKenzie of Organic Seed Alliance.
 

Mar 3, 2017

Join the Tomato Organic Management and Improvement (TOMI) project and eOrganic for two online webinars this month focused on organic tomato production. The first in this two-part live-broadcast series will be held on March 7th at 2:00 p.m. Eastern and the second will be held on March 30th at 2:00 p.m. Eastern. Both webinars are free and open to the public. Pre-registration is required.

TOMI is a multi-state project working to develop new tomato varieties that are resistant to the most problematic diseases facing organic tomato growers while maintaining exceptional flavor that customers expect. 

Webinar 1: Tomato Varietal Improvement
When: March 7, 2017 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern (1:00 p.m. Central, 12:00 p.m. Mountain, 11:00 a.m. Pacific)
Cost: Free
Register: Click here or visit http://articles.extension.org/pages/74055/tomato-varietal-improvement

Organic vegetable growers need varieties that are adapted to their farming systems. In this webinar, presenters will describe how farmers and formal breeders can develop improved tomato varieties on their farm or in their breeding program using examples from the TOMI project. Specific topics will include: identifying key traits and choosing appropriate parents, making crosses and selecting from populations for desirable traits, using genetic markers to aid in selection, and more.

Webinar 2: Using Biofungicides, Biostimulants and Biofertilizers to Boost Crop Productivity and Help Manage Vegetable Diseases
When: March 30, 2017 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern (1:00 p.m. Central, 12:00 p.m. Mountain, 11:00 a.m. Pacific)
Cost: Free
Register: Click here or visit http://articles.extension.org/pages/74056/using-biofungicides-biostimulants-and-biofertilizers-to-boost-crop-productivity-and-help-manage-vege

Effectively managing diseases is one of the biggest challenges facing organic tomato growers. There is currently a wide range of biologically based products available on the market that claim to boost crop growth and help plants withstand many plant diseases. However, there are few independent, science-based studies to validate the efficacy of some of these products as well as instructions detailing how and when to apply them to achieve the best results. In this webinar, presenters will describe the different types of products available in the marketplace today, provide an overview of recent studies evaluating their efficacy, and discuss strategies for identifying the most effective products and application practices.

Oct 10, 2016

Great blog post on the organic seed research happening in the southeeast, including highlights from the TOMI project.  

"TOMI is an excellent example of collaborative research in the public sector that is responding to the organic seed needs of farmers both regionally and nationally. Multiple partners leverage each other’s expertise in addition to the environmental conditions and climates in their respective regions."

Read the full post here