Environmental and Hydroponic Strategies to Enhance Tomato Stress Tolerance, Productivity and Quality in Qatar
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In Qatar, harsh climate conditions and water scarcity precludes growing enough fruits and vegetables to satisfy the domestic demand. This situation forces Qatar to import most of the produce from abroad. It is estimated that consumers in Qatar spent about US $11 billion on food in 2014. In recent years Qatar has invested in large water reservoirs and innovative hydroponic (soilless) production systems like AGRICO Qatari in 2011, in order to become self-sufficient and to satisfy the rising local demand of high-quality, fresh vegetables for more than 2.64 million people. AGRICO is a highly diversified enterprise involved in the production of 48 hectares of organic and conventional vegetables under protected environments. They are a leading company specialized in greenhouse production systems and hydroponic tomato (the most valuable crop) followed by cucumber, pepper, eggplant, okra, zucchini, and leafy greens. These commodities are packaged and marketed solely in Qatar, where there is minimum to no market competition. Despite the advantages of hydroponic technologies, there are evolving challenges and gaps in scientific knowledge in tomato production efficiency, stress tolerance and insect pressures under protected environments, particularly during hot and humid growing conditions during summer months. Current average annual yields are 24 kg/m2 (range 7 up to 40 kg/m2), however summer yields decrease as much as 30%. This is in part due to the lack of stress tolerance of existing cultivars and their pollen and plant ability to maximize fruit set and yield. This research will focus on fresh market tomato and address three objectives that align with the food security goals of the QNRF research call: a) increase tomato production efficiency by a minimum of 25%, b) increase the understanding of pollinator behavior under greenhouse conditions, and c) decrease pest pressures of major insects of tomato such as leafminers, thrips, and whiteflies as well diseases transmitted by some of these vectors. To accomplish these objectives, the project team will apply a set of specific strategies and innovative approaches. They will screen indeterminate tomato genotypes for heat stress tolerance, improved pollen quality and increased fruit set. Since grafting has emerged as a potential tool for maintaining levels of tomato yield in the face of environmental stresses, they will test this technology for selected pre-screened tomato genotypes, which will be exposed to two different planting densities............