BOSSIER CITY, La. — It's the beginning of the picking season for the fall crop of greenhouse tomatoes, which means it's a busy time for H.Y. Hanna and his staff at the LSU AgCenter's Red River Research Station in Bossier City.

Quest is the new variety being tested this year in the greenhouses at the station, and Hanna said it is a variety with "good size" and possibly a longer shelf life than other varieties currently on the market in this country.

"This variety is popular in Belgium, Canada and Holland," Hanna said. "We are working with it to see if it meets the consumers' standards and if it does indeed have a longer shelf life."

Trust is the variety Quest is going up against. Hanna said Trust tastes good, but the fruit is subject to russeting — fine cracks on the shoulders — that may reduce its shelf life.

Match, another variety grown at the station, has been around as long as the Trust variety and is very similar to Trust but has a little bit longer shelf life.

The fall crop of greenhouse tomatoes is not as productive as the spring crop, Hanna said. One reason is because the temperature is not friendly to the plants.

"We start planting the fall crop in July," he said. "The plants struggle during July and August to stay alive. A key factor for plants to survive is to give them plenty of water because they transpire a lot to keep cool."

Tomato plants require night temperatures of 62 to 65 degrees F and day temperatures of 75 to 80 degrees F, he said.

"Tomatoes need a lot of sunlight to be good," Hanna said. "The more light they have, the higher the yields and more flavorful the fruit."

The tomatoes grown at the Red River Research Station are sold at the station, as well as in area stores, Hanna said.

Hanna started a greenhouse tomato research project at the Red River Research Station in 1996. He said he believes this is the future for the tomato industry.

"The tomatoes are grown in a controlled environment," Hanna said. "Problems with diseases and insects aren't as big as they are for field tomatoes. Another advantage is greenhouse tomatoes can be grown year-round."

For more information, contact Hanna at 318–741–7430 or a county agent in a local Extension office.

Tom Merrill is News Editor for LSU AgCenter Communications.