“But in Asia and Europe, the practice of vegetable grafting has been progressing since the 1940s and 1950s,” he says. “Now, a large portion of vegetable production in those regions uses grafted plants.”

Louws attributes the low use of grafting in this country to the development of simple chemical-based soil treatments such as fumigation with methyl bromide.

But as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency places continued restrictions on the use of soil fumigation, the method soon will disappear.

“As methyl bromide is phased out, there is a heightened and critical need for alternative tactics, and grafting has promise to play a prominent role in managing soilborne pathogens,” Louws says. “Another trend has been the emerging market for organic tomatoes, particularly those that can be distinguished in the market, such as heirloom tomatoes.”

These lines typically do not have genetic resistance to the soilborne pathogens that thrive in the Southeast, Louws says. Organic growers also are under economic pressure to maximize returns on their best land, and this decreases their ability to have long crop rotation programs as a tactic to manage soilborne pathogens.

So, Louws says, “grafting tomatoes is a strategy whose time has come in both the conventional and organic production systems.”