A Texas A&M research project is underway to significantly enhance tomato yield in the Middle Eastern country of Qatar, utilizing new solutions found through hydroponics.
The project is being jointly undertaken by Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Texas A&M University at Qatar, a Qatar Foundation partner university, and Agrico, which is sponsored by Qatar National Research Fund.
The project, “Environment and hydroponic strategies to enhance tomato stress tolerance, productivity and quality in Qatar,” is being conducted at the Agrico farms near Al Khor.
The researchers are assessing various genotypes of tomatoes from around the world to see which ones would thrive in the harsh environmental conditions of Qatar. They are also investigating the impact of grafting, plant density, pest control and bumble bee-assisted pollination.
The lead principal investigator is Daniel Leskovar, Ph.D., director of the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Uvalde and interim director of the Texas A&M AgriLife center at Dallas. Leskovar is a professor of vegetable physiology and plant sciences in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Horticultural Sciences and associate director of the Texas A&M Vegetable and Fruit Improvement Center.
The team also consists of co-principal investigator Bing Guo, Ph.D., mechanical engineering associate professor at Texas A&M at Qatar and Prosanta Dash, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research associate at Texas A&M at Qatar.
Hydroponic tomato research
Guo said that Texas A&M at Qatar researchers strive to provide solutions to real challenges faced by the country.
“In recent years, there has been a pressing need to make farming more efficient in Qatar,” he said. “Our preliminary experimental results show a significant increase in tomato yield as compared to the current practice. This is a strong indication that we will reach our goal of improving production efficiency by 25%. We are grateful to Agrico for providing the facilities to conduct this research.”
Leskovar said the AgriLife Research/Texas A&M at Qatar/Agrico tomato project carried out in Agrico’s commercial hydroponic growing facility provides the unique possibility to test an array of technologies under a range of temperature and humidity stress boundaries in a much larger experimental replicated growing area.
“Agrico is committed to supporting Qatar to attain its food security goals, and through this partnership with Texas A&M University and Texas A&M AgriLife Research, we are exploring innovative approaches to improve the product yield at our farms,” said Nasser Al Khalaf, managing director at Agrico. “Research and development in agriculture play a key role in enhancing agricultural practices globally, and we look forward to working with Texas A&M researchers to produce the best output for our country.”
Leskovar said lessons learned from this applied research in Qatar and comparable technologies tested by the vegetable physiology team at Uvalde will also apply to Texas conditions. He said those include applications such as grafting commercial and TAMU tomato genotypes, LED lights, humic acids and canopy management.
“I expect the positive results — whether in improved yield, fruit quality or adoption of efficient technologies that improve canopy growth — could result in a direct and immediate grower adoption,” he said.
“Our hydroponic tomato project is a true academic-stakeholder partnership where we combine plant science knowledge with grower experience and new crop management strategies within the excellent facilities and constant support provided by Agrico,” Leskovar said.
He said the synergy of complementary research conducted by AgriLife Research relating to tomato grafting physiology provides additional results to test in this project in Qatar.
“Together, we are committed to developing efficient, safe and resilient food systems that will enhance food security,” Leskovar said.
Leskovar said he hopes this experience and opportunity to bring new solutions in hydroponic tomato will serve to continue exploring university-industry partnership models in Texas through AgriLife Research’s concerted efforts in controlled environment agriculture with teams at sites in Amarillo, College Station, Dallas, El Paso, Ft. Worth, Uvalde, Vernon and Weslaco.
This story first appeared on the Texas A&M University at Qatar website