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Plant pathology was a no-brainer for Cary Rivard, but it wasn’t until an internship at the Center for Environmental Farming Systems and a serendipitous pairing with plant pathology professor Frank Louws that cemented his interest in vegetable production and led to a ground-breaking research project.
Expense is large obstacle
However, one large obstacle to the widespread practice of tomato grafting is the expense.
“These transplants can cost anywhere from three to five times as much as non-grafted ones,” Rivard says. “The issue we face isn’t efficacy. It’s economic feasibility.”
Despite this, commercial production has been gaining steam in the United States over the last two years, Rivard says. Through workshops, presentations at conferences throughout the Southeast and one-on-one consultations with growers, Rivard has been on a mission to help make grafting feasible.
“Many of our local farmers are interested in propagating their own grafted plants for economic and logistical reasons,” he says. “I had a lot of calls from growers this spring who are grafting their own tomatoes, and I really enjoy helping them work through their problems. It’s especially gratifying to hear back when a particular method has worked.” Rivard and Louws say they believe the benefits of grafting tomatoes outweigh the cost.
“Growers can focus on growing a tomato crop that meets the specialty demands of their market, whether direct sales or wholesale,” Louws says. “They also can focus on managing their site or field specific problems by selecting rootstocks that offer plant disease control or enhanced fruit quality and yields.”
The environmental benefits of vegetable grafting also are profound, as the biologically-based method replaces one that is chemically-based.
Rivard hopes to continue work in vegetable grafting and says he feels fortunate to have landed at North Carolina State. “This has been an incredible experience,” Rivard says. “I’m probably one of the luckiest students around, to have gotten to work with Dr. Louws, as well as numerous others during my graduate work.”
Louws returns the compliment, saying “Cary is a well-rounded student who has a broad and deep scientific background complimented with common sense and practical agricultural experience.
“Thus, he has been able to manage field-based projects, work well with growers in on-farm-research projects, conduct advanced science experiments in the lab and very importantly, translate the information to growers, students and other clientele in a way they understand and can use it.”
What’s next for Rivard?
“Find a job,” he says with a laugh.
“I’ve applied for a few academic positions, such as Extension specialist, but I’m very interested in teaching, too,” he says. “I find that although these areas have completely different audiences, the overall goal is the same.
“And that’s what I enjoy the most,” Rivard says. “Being able to look at data and pull something meaningful from it, whether it’s a grower recommendation or a theoretical concept delivered in the classroom.”