Producers from as far away as Bossier City, La., attended the fruit and vegetable producers’ field day at the LSU AgCenter Burden Research Center on July 2. The annual field day brings commercial growers together to discuss issues that range from insect and weed control to how to best market their products.

The two-part meeting began with LSU AgCenter gardening specialist Kiki Fontenot giving an update on 2011-2012 vegetable variety trials at the Burden Research Center. “Each year we have tomato trials, and each year we also have the tomato taste test where we let the public decide what they feel is the best tomato.”

Last year, the best of the cherry tomatoes was the Sun Gold variety. Of the large variety, Creole was tops.

The Sun Gold cherry tomato is a heavy-producing indeterminate variety that has received overwhelming approval, Fontenot said. “At the Houma tomato field day last year, 198 out 200 people picked this as the best cherry tomato.”

Fontenot said of nine varieties of peppers, Gypsy ranked first. Dasher II remains the best cucumber variety, and Tendergold, a yellow-meat watermelon, was the favorite.

LSU AgCenter plant pathologist Don Ferrin gave an update on early blight and southern blight diseases on tomatoes and peppers and discussed several of the new fungicides available.

Tomato growers expect to battle insects throughout the growing season, and LSU AgCenter entomologist Alan Morgan gave growers some encouragement in the form of several new insecticides available to control tomato and other vegetable and fruit pests.

Morgan gave the growers a list of the available chemicals that he described as the “old” and the “new” products labeled for home, commercial and organic gardens.

New products are designed to target insects instead of using the “shotgun effect” of trying to kill everything out there, Morgan said. 

Later, participants toured research plots of tomatoes, peppers, corn, cucumbers and cover crops.

One area, other than the watermelon tasting that received considerable attention was the high tunnels being used in tomato production. These structures allow the researchers to control the growing environment by raising and lowering the cloth sides of the tunnel.

“There is a USDA program where farmers can get 75 percent of their high-tunnel cost paid by the government,” Fontenot said.

The high tunnel research is brand new, Fontenot said. “What we’re actually trying to do is just produce a better-looking tomato, but we will have to wait to get the data on whether this is a cost-effective way of tomato production.”

Other stops on the field tour included figs where LSU AgCenter researcher Charlie Johnson discussed fig research studies and allowed participants to sample different varieties because now is the time for figs in Louisiana.

The stop that received the most attention was the watermelon and tomato testing tent. The tent was not only welcome relief from the summer temperatures, but the sight of fresh-cut watermelon seemed to provide a bit of extra energy for field day participants.

Fontenot said the research being conducted is the result of a three-year grant from the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry to study tomatoes, peppers and the fall crops -- lettuce and strawberries.