“The big upside of grafted transplants is that we can build a plant that has a disease resistance package tailor made for a specific field and a specific combination of disease problems.

“It may take a plant breeder decades to get the same disease package into a plant and we can do it with grafting in a matter of minutes,” Freeman says.

Grafting is a natural process that joins the top part of one plant (scion) to the root system of another plant (rootstock) without any genetic modification. As tissues heal, the two plants fuse, combining the rootstock’s vigor and disease résistance with the scion’s exceptional fruit quality and flavor.

Some of the benefits of transplants include:

• Stronger, more vigorous plants;

• Improved yields in disease prone areas;

• Superior defenses against soil-borne diseases and pests, including nematodes.

North Carolina State University Horticulturist Frank Louws is spearheading a cooperative effort among several universities, growers and agri-industry leaders to develop grafting of plants for various vegetable crops grown in the U.S.

“As part of a large grant, we held an organizational meeting recently, expecting a couple dozen people from the Southeast to attend.

“We had more than 100 people from all over the world attend our meeting. That’s an indication of the interest the vegetable industry has in grafting,” Louws says.

“Grafting technology can produce more reliable plants than conventional seeding — we know that and can demonstrate that in the field,” he adds. “What we don’t know is how to provide enough plants at a low enough cost to make the technology profitable on a wide scale of commercial production.”

One of the markets to profit most consistently from grafting is organic production of heirloom tomatoes.

Researchers at North Carolina State Universityfound through a series of field tests that heirloom tomato varieties grafted onto tomato root and main stem stock of modern disease-resistant varieties provided an effective management tool for growing heirlooms where locally existing diseases would otherwise preclude or greatly diminish the crop yield.