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Tomato

Who doesn’t know tomato? Maybe the Taiwanese who consume as little as 5.40 kg per capita per year. Compared to the Chinese on the other side of the Taiwan Strait, who consume over 43,000 Tons per head per year. This includes all tomatoes that are used for tomato paste. Traditionally tomatoes are pictured as being round and red. However, tomatoes come in various sizes, shapes, and colors, including red, yellow, green, and purple. 

The tomato has a challenge. 

Tomato plants are delicate warm-season crops that love the sun but cannot withstand frost. And because low to moderate rainfall is needed for proper crop growth, it is easy to imagine that rising temperatures and drought make tomato growers look anxiously at the weather report. But they also daily look down as tomato plants are susceptible to many pests and diseases, including bacterial wilt, early blight, mosaic virus, Fusarium wilt, nematodes, and tomato hornworms. Worldwide, losses due to these pests are estimated to be about 34.4% of attainable tomato yield under current production practices.

Diseased tomato plant – [Image source: ucanr.edu]

The growing tomato market

The global tomato processing market size reached 45.2 Million Tons in 2022. The market is expected to reach 56.5 Million Tons by 2028, exhibiting a growth rate (CAGR) of 3.75% during 2023-2028.

The market growth is driven by the increasing demand for tomato-based products, such as ketchup, sauces, and purees, widely used in the food processing industry. Additionally, the growing health consciousness among consumers has increased the demand for fresh and organic tomatoes.

The market potential for tomatoes is also influenced by various factors such as weather conditions, government regulations, and consumer preferences. For instance, unfavorable weather conditions, such as droughts or floods, can affect tomato production and supply, leading to higher consumer prices. Similarly, government regulations on food safety, labeling, and imports can also affect the tomato market.

Here is a table of the top 10 tomato-producing countries in the year 2021 according to FAOSTAT.

CountriesVolume (in tonnes)
1China, mainland67,500,000
2India21,200,000
3Türkiye13,200,000
4United States of America10,500,000
5Italy6,600,000
6Egypt6,200,000
7Spain4,800,000
8Mexico4,100,000
9Brazil3,700,000
10Nigeria3,600,000

Countries by tomato production in 2017

The ideal tomato world

Tomatoes perform well in tropical climates as it requires plenty of sunshine. A position in full sun (that means an average of at least eight hours a day) gives the best results in most areas However, they can also be produced in cooler regions. The optimum average temperature for growth is 18 to 25ºC, with night temperatures between 10 and 20ºC. Significant differences between day and night temperatures, however, negatively affect yield.  High humidity causes a higher incidence of pests and diseases. Dry climates are therefore known to encourage tomato production.

Growth stages of tomato plant
Photo: Redmond R. Shamshiri

Well-drained, slightly acidic soil with a pH between 6.0 and 6.8 is perfect for tomato production. Tomatoes require regular irrigation, especially during dry seasons. The crops are to be watered deeply along the root zone for proper nutrient uptake. Getting water on the leaves could promote disease occurrence. Waterlogging also negatively affects tomato plants as it increases the incidence of diseases such as bacterial wilt. The crop also requires soil rich in organic matter, such as compost.

Tomato challenges and solutions; one by one

There are several challenges that can affect tomato yield and quality, including;

  • As said, tomato plants are easily attacked by quite a number of pests. Lower yields and poor-quality fruit can be caused by;
Insect damage on tomato fruit – Source: TNAU Agritech
  • Bacterial wilt; The bacteria multiply rapidly within the plant and plug the vascular tissue, resulting in wilting of the vines. Once bacterial wilt infects a plant, there is no way to control the disease
  • Fusarium wilt; Fusarium wilt is a devastating soil-borne fungal disease of tomatoes throughout the United States and worldwide. The disease is caused by Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. lycopersici that can cause significant yield losses of tomato production in greenhouse, high tunnel, and field. 
  • Blight; Blight affects leaves, fruits and stems and can be severely yield-limiting when susceptible tomato cultivars are used and the weather is favorable.
  • Anthracnose; Anthracnose is a common and widespread rot of ripe tomato fruit. Symptoms are small, sunken, circular spots that may increase in size up to 1/2 inch in diameter. 
  • Leaf spot; The Septoria fungus can attack tomatoes at any stage of development, but symptoms usually first appear on the older, lower leaves and stems when plants are setting fruit.
Late blight tomato disease
[Photo: Liudmyla/istockphoto.com]

A solution could be brought by Crop rotation, Intercropping, and Cover crops creating a natural habitat for their enemies.

  • Climate change can cause severe loss in tomato production by altering temperature and precipitation patterns, thereby causing heat stress, drought, and increased disease incidence.→ Windbreaks, Cover crops.
  • Soil health is crucial for growing healthy tomato plants. Overusing fertilizers, monoculture, and improper crop rotations can lead to soil degradation, nutrient depletion, and decreased crop yield. → Crop rotation, Intercropping, Cover crops.
  • Tomato production requires significant amounts of water, and water scarcity can pose a significant threat to farmers, particularly in regions with low rainfall or limited access to irrigation water. → Windbreaks, Water management, Cover crops.

Regenerative tomatoes

Regenerative agriculture can be applied to tomato farming by building healthy soil, increasing biodiversity, conserving water, and using natural pest management techniques. These practices can help to improve soil health, reduce inputs, and promote sustainable and resilient farming systems.

Practices such as crop rotation are important as tomatoes are susceptible to several soil-borne diseases. Farmers can rotate tomatoes with non-solanaceous crops (crops that are not in the same family as tomatoes) to reduce the risk of soil-borne diseases and pests attack.

Also, planting cover crops like clover, rye, or buckwheat in between tomato crops can help improve soil health and reduce soil-borne diseases. Tomatoes can also be grown between fruit trees to maximize land use and diversify income streams.

After harvesting tomatoes, all plant debris is to be removed completely from the field. This will help reduce the risk of disease occurrence or spread.

Possible combinations with tomato

Tomatoes can be combined with many other plants in a crop rotation or intercropping system. Here are some options for crop combinations with tomatoes:

Basil: Basil is a natural companion plant for tomatoes, as it repels pests and improves tomato flavor. Planting basil alongside tomatoes can help deter pests like tomato hornworms and whiteflies while enhancing the flavor of your tomatoes.

Cucumbers: Cucumbers and tomatoes can be intercropped with similar growing requirements. Planting cucumbers between tomato plants helps in making the most of the available space and improving yield.

Beans: Beans fix nitrogen in the soil, making them an excellent choice for planting alongside tomatoes. Tomatoes can also provide support for bean plants, which can help them climb and thrive.

Peppers: Peppers and tomatoes are both members of the nightshade family and can be grown together successfully. Planting peppers and tomatoes side by side maximizes space.

Lettuce: Lettuce is a cool-season crop that can be planted alongside tomatoes in early spring. Lettuce can be planted in between rows of tomato plants to make the most of the available space and help conserve moisture in the soil.

Fun Facts on Tomatoes

  • Tomatoes are actually a fruit, not a vegetable. They are classified as a fruit because they develop from the ovary of a flower and contain seeds.
  • Tomatoes are a good source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, potassium, and lycopene, a powerful antioxidant.
  • Tomatoes originate in the western coastal regions of South America, in the area that is now Peru and Ecuador. The indigenous peoples of the region domesticated the wild tomato plant and cultivated it for thousands of years before it was introduced to other parts of the world.
  • In the 16th century, Spanish explorers brought back tomato seeds from their travels in the New World. However, at that time, tomatoes were primarily grown as ornamental plants and were not widely consumed.
  • In the 18th century, tomatoes began to gain popularity as a food crop in Europe and North America. You wonder what the Spanish and Italians were eating before the arrival of the red love apple. 
  • On a global scale, tomatoes are the most important vegetable crop, with about 160 million tonnes produced in 2011, or about 15 % of total vegetable production.
  • The top five tomato producers are China, India, the USA, Turkey, and Egypt, representing about 60 % of the world’s production.
  • In the Spanish festival La Tomatina, thousands of people gather to throw tomatoes at each other in a massive tomato fight.
  • While the fruit of potato plants is edible and safe to eat, the leaves and stems contain solanine, a toxic substance that can cause nausea, vomiting, and other symptoms if ingested in large amounts.


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