If you’re thinking about starting a tomato farm, you’ll be in good company. They are the most widely grown vegetable in America.
Need a little more convincing before you start preparing for that first harvest? Then how about the fact 11.19 million tons of these plants were produced in 2019?
Read on for a complete guide on how to start tomato farming. Remember that tomatoes are a member of the nightshade family of plants that includes peppers and potatoes.
Is Tomato Farming Profitable?
Tomato growers can make a good profit, but the prices fluctuate and production costs can be high. Even though these are perennial plants, they don’t do well in cold winters. However, if you’re already growing other crops, tomatoes make a great companion plant. For example, you may look into how to start potato farming or sunflower farming in addition to growing tomatoes.
Heirloom tomatoes have a retail price of three dollars per pound. Sell a crop at six dollars per pound in your gross profit is four dollars per tomato. Some estimates say that you can get 1,5oo 25-pound cartons of tomatoes per acre.
14 Steps for Growing Tomatoes for Profit
Most growers grow tomato plants from seeds indoors. Commercial farming techniques to grow tomatoes also involve drip irrigation. And transplanting the seedlings.
If you’re ready to learn how to start a farm with tomatoes, here are some steps to help you get started with these plants.
1. Develop a Farm Business Plan
Your farm business plan is a framework to get funding and gauge your success. The USDA has an excellent checklist to reference.
2. Identify the Right Growing Conditions
Soil types make a difference for outdoor tomatoes. Analysis should point to slightly acidic pH levels of 6.2 to 6.8. Remember this is a warm-season crop.
3. Choose the Right Variety of Tomatoes
Certain growers prefer different tomato varieties. With cooler temperatures, a shorter growing season is a factor.
Growing habits matter too. Some determinate varieties grow to be about three feet tall. Other types of determinate tomatoes produce fruit for longer periods of time. These factors and others affect tomato cultivation times.
4. Know When to Plant Tomato Seedlings
Late spring or early summer is a good time to plant tomato seeds. Mid-March to early April seedlings should be about 3 to 4 inches tall before you transplant them.
5. Find and Develop the Ideal Tomato Crop Terrain
Warmer soil is best for root development. An inadequate water supply will stunt the growth of the entire plant. Check factors like the water intake rate before planting tomatoes.
A drip irrigation system is an excellent way to irrigate these plants. This system boosts nutrient availability too.
6. Research Pest and Disease Control Methods
When it comes to tomatoes, this is about much more than weed control. Weather conditions like high humidity can make a difference and infect your tomatoes. Here are some other tomato diseases to keep an eye out for.
Blossom End Rot
Overwatering the plants can cause this. Improper pruning during tomato cultivation is another reason.
Tobacco Mosaic Virus
Plant tissue is the culprit. Specifically an infected leaf rubs against a healthy one.
Many crops have this issue. Peppers and potatoes as well as tomatoes have leaves that turn brown.
This issue is caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans. It can begin with infected tomato seeds.
This thrives in warm temperatures. The plants wilt and the leaves turn yellow.
There’s no effective treatment. You’ll need to dispose of the plant, right down to the root system. Red flags include yellow v-shaped leaves.
South America (Tuta Absoluta)
Not a disease but a pest. It’s been called the South American tomato leafminer.
7. Prepare Your Soil
Many farmers plan for good tomato cultivation by tweaking the soil conditions early on. Tomatoes cannot grow in sandy soils. Plants depend on dirt that’s rich in organic matter. Put compost or even fish heads in the dirt where the root ball will grow.
8. Plant Your Seedlings
Leaving space between seedlings helps them to grow. These should be spaced 30 to 48 inches apart. And the rows need to have a space of 48 inches between them.
8. Harden off Your tomato plants
When pursuing agricultural business ideas like tomato farming, you need to follow the procedures for your specific crops. Start this step around the last average frost date. Gradual exposure to wind and light is essential.
9. Transplant Your Seedlings
Soil depth matters. Transplant tomatoes when they are about 3-4″ tall. Watch the soil temperature. A late cold snap can kill them. Plant spacing is important too. Leave 6” between them.
10. Maintain Your Crops and Keep Them Healthy
Water stress happens when the leaves don’t get enough moisture. The edges die. Here are some other tips to keep tomatoes healthy. When they reach a certain height, gently tie them to stakes. That keeps the fruit set in place so they don’t snap the stems. Start when they are 6 to 10 inches high.
The small shoots that sprout from the stem are called tomato suckers. A sharp pruner can remove suckers when they are small.
Controlling weeds is another chore. Using landscape fabric between rows is efficient.
11. Consider Investing in a Greenhouse, Nursery, or Tunnel House
This is a good way to extend your growing season. Not only that, the nursery protects tomatoes from rain which can promote fungal diseases.
Nursery preparation might involve cooling the space during the day and heating it at night.
12. Identify Your Market
As far as organic agriculture business ideas go, growing tomatoes is profitable. The total market in 2022 was valued at $43.4 million dollars USD.
Market drivers include snack foods, food processing, and home use. Tomatoes get used in the hospitality and dining sectors.
Selling at farmers’ markets is an option if you’re a small-scale operation.
13. Develop Your Marketing Strategy
Marketing tomatoes can use a multichannel approach. If you have a social media platform like a Facebook Page or a website, use SEO. Search engine optimization starts with the right keyword. Don’t forget to geographically tag them to attract local consumers. So, a keyword like “tomatoes in Philadelphia” will attract people there.
Secondary racks and displays are important if you’re selling through a brick-and-mortar outlet. Dry tables located outside the entrance to the store push the tomatoes you have for sale.
Cross-merchandising is another effective method. If you can team up with an outlet that will display avocados with your tomatoes, all the better.
‘How to’ guides and recipes suggesting how tomatoes can be served and cooked are great incentives.
14. Harvest Your Ripe Tomatoes
The tomato fruit should be eaten fresh. There are two schools of thought about when you should harvest the fruit. The first plant is in March or April. A second plant can start as soon as the leaves on the first one start to die off.
- Some experts say you should wait for it to turn the color it’s supposed to be, either yellow, orange, or red.
- Other tomato farmers and gardeners swear by picking the fruit at what’s called the breaker stage. This is when the tomato has gone from green to light orange.
There are exceptions to both. Tomatoes should be picked before the temperature drops to below 45°F.
Troubleshooting Common Tomato Plant Issues
Dry periods and other environmental conditions can affect your crop. Here are a few other things to look for and what you can do about each.
The symptom is flowers appearing on your tomato plants that fall off without any of the fruit developing. Fluctuations in temperature cause this issue. Use the right fertilizer.
Ripe tomatoes appear cracked when this begins. Hot humid rainy weather causes this problem. The solution is to water your tomatoes while they grow.
Plants start out looking healthy but develop yellow patches. Those turn white. As the name suggests, this problem happens when the sun scalds your tomatoes. Tomato cages or another type of wire support surrounding the plants provide branch support and the solution.
How Many Tomatoes Can 1 Plant Produce?
The type of tomato makes a difference. But generally, you get 18 fruits per plant. However, there are types like the Roma Tomato. They yield 30 fruits per plant. All tomatoes contain about 20 milligrams of vitamin C.
What State is the Largest Producer of Tomatoes?
Wondering about the best states to start a farm? Consider California. They produced 217.3 million cwt (hundredweight) of tomatoes there in 2022.
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