At the Horticulture Innovation Lab’s 2016 annual meeting, speakers were invited to give brief “lightning talks” to share highlights of their recent horticultural work. Audio slideshows of these 5-minute talks are now available on YouTube.
James Nienhuis of the University of Wisconsin-Madison leads a project with the Horticulture Innovation Lab focused on expanding tomato grafting for entrepreneurship in Guatemala and Honduras.
Over the years, he has led other Horticulture Innovation Lab projects in Central America — first focused on evaluating tomato and chili varieties for disease resistance, then on helping farmers produce disease-resistant vegetable seed. He called these past projects, “Semillas de Esperanza” or Seeds of Hope.
But when the farmers he was working with began to sell seedlings instead of just seeds, a new idea began to sprout. How else could these women farmers add value to their seedlings, and further assist their fellow farmers with more vigorous plants?
“We have resistance to Gemini virus, but we do not have resistance to many of the soilborne pathogens. So the dilemma for me was: How do I combine resistance to both the virus and soilborne pathogens? And one of the solutions to that is not a genetic hybrid, ladies and gentlemen, but rather a physical hybrid,” he says in the video.
Nienhuis is now focused on, “Plántulas de Esperanza” or Seedlings of Hope, with a new project that branches off from that previous work — this time focusing on grafted seedlings.
In the video, he talks us through the thought process of the transition between a seed project into a grafted seedling project.
Nienhuis leads this research project with partners from the Ohio State University, Zamorano, Instituto Tecnologico de Costa Rica, and AVRDC-The World Vegetable Center.
The international team focuses on vegetable plants that are well adapted for small-scale, low-input rural agriculture in Honduras and Guatemala. After evaluating hundreds of tomato varieties for disease resistance, they are working with groups of women farmers to produce grafted vegetable seedlings as small businesses.
Interested in learning more about vegetable grafting? The Horticulture Innovation Lab has also previously worked with Matt Kleinhenz of the Ohio State University (and a partner on this project too), who put together this basic Tomato Grafting Guide (PDF) and a more in-depth Vegetable Grafting website.