Phil Thomas Costa tomatoes

A world-first study using DNA samples from hydroponic tomatoes is being undertaken through a collaboration between Costa and University of New England (UNE).

The ‘tomato rhizobiome’ project’ – which will be part of the Future Food Systems Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) - is designed to further the understanding of microbial colonies in the root zones of hydroponically grown greenhouse tomato crops.

A stronger rhizobiome helps plants grow better, produce more fruit and show greater resilience to pathogens. Once the project team has a better understanding about the rhizobiome of tomatoes grown in hydroponic media, they’ll use that knowledge to find ways to foster robust rhizobiomes in these plants.

Project lead Gal Winter, from Australia’s UNE, has set up trial plots of hydroponic tomatoes in close collaboration with the Costa tomato glasshouses at Guyra in the state of New South Wales

“Hydroponic media are very different from the soil environment,” Winter explained

“Crops grown in soil get all the nutrients from the soil, and it is very, very rich in microorganisms. It’s challenging to study what’s in the root zone of hydroponic plants, because there isn’t a lot.

“The challenge is, how do we get a population of microorganisms [in that hydroponically grown plant’s root zone] to support the plant?”

Paul Butterworth, technical development manager for the Costa glasshouses, said the initial findings are very promising.

“We believe the project is progressing nicely and the information already coming from the project is having an influence on how we look at our crops. Exciting times ahead,” Butterworth said.