For many growers, tomatoes are the ideal crop to produce due to their tremendous demand and high market value. Since tomatoes are a universal item in the American diet, they are very easily marketed, even in outlying rural areas away from major markets. This ease of marketing all that a grower can produce is an important point to consider when choosing a crop. Also, with a ten-day shelf life, tomatoes need no refrigeration or special treatment prior to delivery to market.
Consumer acceptance of hydroponically grown tomatoes has also contributed to their appeal to the commercial grower. Most of the year consumers must depend on field grown tomatoes, usually from Mexico, Florida, or California. These green-picked, gas ripened tomatoes are usually of questionable quality and their taste and texture leave much to be desired. Transportation costs, unionized labor, and climactic conditions are increasing the cost to produce field vegetables, and are causing a shift of vegetable production closer to the markets, making controlled environment tomato production a profitable alternative for the farmer who is looking to diversify.
Quality of the hydroponically grown tomato is unsurpassed, with a beautiful appearance, smooth skin, little or no blemishes, a deep red color when fully ripe, a real tomato aroma, a meaty texture, and an excellent taste, much like garden tomatoes. A comment often heard from people tasting a hydroponic tomato for the first time is: "This tomato really tastes like a tomato!" Produce buyers are anxious to find suppliers for this quality of tomato and a ready market and profitable price are virtually assured.
Most hydroponic growers prefer to grow a single tomato crop for the entire year, with northern growers usually planting seeds in early January, and southern growers planting in August. Some growers plant two crops per year, a spring and a fall crop, thereby eliminating the lower price received during the summer months and allowing a reduction in labor at those times. In the north, while the price is lower for a month or so in the summer time, hydroponic tomatoes bring a premium price, right through the home grown season.
To make a full time business, to generate sufficient wages for the owner/operator, and to earn a reasonable profit, a quarter acre, four-bay greenhouse is the minimum recommended size to begin with. Some growers wishing to start out on a smaller scale choose either our 30' x 128' free-standing unit, or a two-bay gutter connect unit, which can be added on to in the future. We can help you decide the best choice for your particular situation.
Hydroponic tomatoes can be grown in several types of soilless systems, with perlite bags being one of the most popular. Rockwool, peat bags, and NFT (Nutrient Film Technique), are also used by some growers. The perlite bag system, developed by growers in Scotland, is becoming the most popular system due to the lower capital costs and ease of installation and management. Although perlite is included in its packages, CropKing is able to offer other systems, depending on the grower's needs and desires.