Monday, August 10, 2009

Tomato Crop Problems

Yesterday's NY Times had an excellent article about the late blight problem and its effect on this year's tomato crop. Here are the parts I want to highlight, but read the whole thing.

If you love eating flavorful organic field tomatoes, good luck — they’ll be as rare this summer as a week without rain. And those that survive will cost you; we’re already seeing price increases of 20 percent over last year.
Here’s the unhappy twist: the explosion of home gardeners — the very people most conscious of buying local food and opting out of the conventional food chain — has paradoxically set the stage for the worst local tomato harvest in memory.

For all the new growers out there, what’s missing is not the inspiration, it’s the expertise, the agricultural wisdom and technical knowledge passed on from generation to generation.

The cooperative extension service is still active, but budget cuts have left it ill equipped to deal with a new generation of farmers. The emphasis now is on reaching farmers through mass e-mail messages and Web-based dialogues, with less hands-on observation. That’s like getting a doctor’s check-up over the phone.

Mountain Magic is an example of regionalized breeding. For years, this kind of breeding has fallen by the wayside — the result of a food movement wary of science and an industrialized food chain that eschews differentiation in favor of uniformity.
Mountain Magic was one of the varieties we tried last Thursday, I believe.

And this part echoes what we've been doing here in Franklin County with our Taste Day:

While they’re at it, breeders could be selecting for flavor and not for uniformity, shipping size and shelf life. The result will mean not just tastier tomatoes; it will translate into a food system with greater variety and better regional adaptation.

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