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Growing Irrigated Tomatoes in Corn Country

Growing Irrigated Tomatoes in Corn Country

Everyone knows they grow tomatoes in . . . Indiana?

That’s right, Indiana, one of the leading corn and soybean producing states in the U.S., is also tomato country.

Rice Farms

Each year, Rice Farms of Wanatah, Ind., grows approximately 10,000 tons (9,072 MT) of pivot-irrigated tomatoes that are used to make tomato juice, ketchup, salsa and a host of other tomato-based products.

“It has been a stable business for us,” says Scott Rice, a fourth generation Indiana grower. “Prices don’t fluctuate like grain.”

Rice, his two adult sons, David and James, and his father, Gene, grow approximately 300 acres (121 ha) of tomatoes on their northwest Indiana farm. They also raise seed corn, field corn, soybeans and wheat. Nearly all of their crops are irrigated with pivots.

The farm has been in the Rice family since 1917.

Like Row Crops

“Our entire tomato growing operation is mechanized. There is very little hand labor involved,” Rice says. “We treat our tomatoes like row crops, planting in 60-inch (152 cm) rows, which works great with our corn and soybean equipment.”

Rice uses 5-inch (127-mm) starter transplants to plant his tomato crop. Fields are cultivated once during the growing season, with fungicides and insecticides applied with a sprayer as needed.

Zimmatic Pivots

Zimmatic pivots are used to supplement Indiana’s normal rainfall during the  tomato growing season.

“The pivots are used strictly for supplemental watering as a hedge in case we don’t get rain, and during critical times of the growing seasons, such as flowering and first set, when getting enough water to the tomatoes is critical.”

To spread out percolation of water into the soil, Rice applies six-tenths of an inch (15.24 mm) of water to his tomatoes during two separate rotations of the pivots, for a total of 1.2 inches (30.48 mm) of water.

Harvest Time

Tomato harvest at Rice Farms begins in August and ends in mid-October. The tomatoes are harvested mechanically and bulk transported in trucks to Red Gold, a family-owned Indiana tomato processing and marketing business.

Rice describes some of his tomato yields as “prolific,” with 100 or more tomatoes on a single plant.

Because of potential diseases, the tomatoes can’t be planted on the same ground for a minimum of four years so they are rotated with the other row crops.

FieldNET

Rice uses FieldNET web-based irrigation management and control on his pivots and plans to add FieldNET Mobile, which will give him the ability to monitor and control his pivots with smartphones.

“FieldNET has been a big plus on all of our pivots. It’s helped us to be more efficient and get some of our life back by not having to physically drive out to the pivots to turn them off and on,” Rice says.

Visit our website to locate a Zimmatic dealer near you.