Weather impacts tomato growth for festival

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BOONE COUNTY - Weather has made an impact on this year's Tomato Festival at the Bradford Research Center.

Thursday's 11th Annual Tomato Festival will feature far fewer tomato varieties than hoped.

Superintendent for the Bradford Research Center Tim Reinbott said, "Even though we have 220 varieties of tomatoes that we planted, we're only going to have about 180 at the festival."

He said peppers have fared even worse.

"As always, we increase the number of peppers that we have, and tomatoes," Reinbott said. "We try to have at least fifty percent new tomatoes or peppers each year, but this has been one of those challenging years though."

He said not all of the shortage can be blamed on weather.

"All the rain that we had in May and June and into July, and the abnormally cool weather really slowed the peppers and tomatoes down, actually some of them we lost to diseases in the roots and stems," he said.

When a large amount of rain comes in a short amount of time, he said, the tomatoes grow faster, causing cracks which expose them to the elements, starting the rotting process.

"The tomato harvest is lower this year, we just didn't get the growth in the plants and the blossoms set, so yes we have less volume and also the quality is pretty bad this year," Reinbott said.

The center had to keep the tomato plants in the greenhouse for an extra three weeks past the optimum planting time because of the wet conditions, he said.

The effects can be felt at grocery stores and farmers market's, he said.

"I have heard and saw for myself, especially at the farmers markets and other places, that freshly grown tomatoes were fairly expensive this year," Reinbott said. "A lot of very very good gardeners didn't even have any tomatoes."

According to the USDA's Fruit and Vegetable National Retail Report, the price per pound for tomatoes increased 22 cents within the last two weeks.

He said careful planting helped salvage some of the crop.

"The only reason that ours does as well as they have is because we plant ours on a mound and they were able to shed some of the water. Those that didn't have raised beds at all lost most of their tomatoes," he said.

The festival is held at the Bradford Research Center from 4-7 p.m. Admission is free. Informational presentations and free samples of the tomatoes and peppers are available.

Local chefs will have a cook-off contest to see who can cook the best tomato-based dishes. Festival attendees will vote for their favorite.

More details are available on the event's website.