COLUMBIA – This time last year, Tim Reinbott was surveying a field of damaged tomatoes after an early July hailstorm. Only 65 of the 115 varieties planted that season survived.
On Tuesday, MU's Bradford Research and Extension Center east of Columbia hosted a tomato tasting where 300 to 400 guests were able to taste 100 of the 150 varieties planted this year.
"The general consensus is that the tomatoes were better than last year," Reinbott said.
Reinbott's favorites are a tomato named Heatwave and other varieties that fall under the Mountain Series.
"The Heatwave comes from the Deep South, and the Mountain Series originates in North Carolina," Reinbott said. "These tomatoes are made for the heat. It also helps that we were able to begin planting in early May. I even know some people that began planting in April."
The tasting was a prelude to the Sept. 6 Tomato Festival at Bradford's farm that attracted about 600 guests in 2011 to taste tomatoes and peppers and learn how to grow them.
With more space in the research farm's new conference center, Reinbott is hoping for a larger turnout this year.
"We're hoping more people will come," he said. "We've added a new event for guests to go into the tomato and pepper patches and ask horticultural specialists questions."
This year's festival also features dishes from 14 restaurants using Bradford's tomatoes and peppers as well as talks from MU and Lincoln University faculty on staking and mulching techniques.
Reinbott isn't the only grower experiencing a better tomato crop this year.
According to a July 26 Farmers' Market Report published by the Missouri Department of Agriculture, "Tomatoes of all kinds are coming in like it is the middle of August. Heirlooms are as abundant as we have ever seen them."
A follow up report on July 31 cited a "record year" for tomatoes despite the drought: "Growers who have battled fungus in the past are finding a silver lining to our extremely dry conditions and bringing a bumper crop of tomatoes to markets throughout the state."
Rhonda Borgmeyer of Pete's Produce, a vendor at the Columbia Farmers Market, agreed with the tomato assessment.
"The market is flooded," she said. "More people are selling them this year because they're so popular."
Kenny Duzan, a local grower who also sells at the Columbia Farmers' Market, said it's the "first year in five years that I've had a crop do this well."
Duzan has had a difficult time maintaining crops the past few years because of weather and climate conditions.
"Last year, I lost the majority of my crop to hail," he said. "The year before, I lost it to wet weather, and I can't even remember the years before then."
This year, Duzan has been able to sell 300 to 400 pounds of tomatoes a week. "I've sold 1,000 pounds a week in the past, but everyone has tomatoes, so it's tough competition."
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