North Carolina State University's tomato breeding program, run by Dr. Randy Gardner, has given growers 16 fresh-market tomato varieties suited to North Carolina conditions. These new varieties typically produce higher yields or are more resistant than other varieties to diseases or insects. Farmers who grow these varieties are more productive. For example, the breeding program has produced three varieties that are resistant to a disease called early blight, the primary foliar disease with which North Carolina growers must contend. Farmers who grow one of these varieties have been able to lengthen the schedule on which they spray pesticide from five days to 10 days, effectively cutting in half the cost of applying pesticide.
It is a measure of the success of this program that the majority of the vine-ripe tomato acreage planted in the Eastern United States is planted in varieties developed by Dr. Gardner. It is also telling that much of the funding for Dr. Gardner's program comes from royalties paid by companies that sell seed of the varieties produced by the program. Growing fresh market tomatoes is worth more than $20 million annually to North Carolina. Dr. Gardner's work is helping to keep this industry healthy.