The history of Rutgers tomato

The Rutgers tomato was developed jointly by Rutgers and the Campbell Soup Company.

Tom Orton, an extension specialist in the Department of Plant Biology, said that the Rutgers tomato, or “Rutgers” was a tomato open-pollinated cultivar, which is a type of plant produced by selective breeding, developed during the late 1920s and early 1930s. In 1934, the cultivar was then released to the seed industry for use.

“Rutgers” was originally meant to be used for both fresh market and processing, Orton said. The cultivar was the most prominent during the late 1940s, and was the most popular worldwide until later in the 1950s.

“After ‘Rutgers’ was released, the RU team member, Professor Lyman Schermerhorn, maintained a ‘foundation’ breeding population until he retired in the mid 1950s,” Orton said. “But it was apparently lost after that.”

Orton said that during the 1960s, hybrids were introduced and new processing tomato cultivars were released, which rendered the “Rutgers” obsolete.

William Hlubik, a professor in the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resource, said that the Rutgers tomato has still been sold for more than 25 years at Rutgers Day by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Team of Middlesex County.

“My father Joe and my grandfather John were growing the Rutgers tomato for many years for Campbell Soup Company starting in the 30s,” Hlubik said. “My grandfather John Hlubik received a gold watch for being in the 10-ton club for Campbell’s soup many years ago.”

At one time, the family hauled 2 to 4 large trucks of tomatoes to Campbell’s soup in Camden during peak harvest in July and August, Hlubik said.

“We shipped 30 to 50 tons per day of tomatoes that were all picked by hand,” Hbulik said. “All five of my brothers and myself helped in all aspects of production, harvest and shipping along with 20 to 30 part-time workers.”

Hlubik added that the family still farms in Chesterfield in Burlington County, New Jersey. The farm is now preserved and still grows many varieties of tomatoes.

While the original Rutgers tomato had lost popularity, a new reinvented version was being developed, Orton said.

“Jack Rabin of Rutgers was informed by Campbell Soup Tech Center colleagues in 2010 that (Campbell Soup Company) possessed descendents of the populations that were used in the development of the original ‘Rutgers,” said Orton.

Orton added that they decided to recreate “Rutgers” based on these descendents and the “roadmap” Schermerhorn originally published on the development of “Rutgers.”

“From 2011 to 2014, a breeding program was applied to refine and select subsequent generations for the original traits targeted by Schermerhorn,” Orton said. “Plus better fruit firmness, vine strength and vigor, fruit quality (color and color uniformity) and fruit flavor (high sugar/acid).”

In 2014, there were three selections that appeared to be worthy to evaluate for release, Orton said.

Orton added that during 2015, these selections went through intensive testing for their field performance, fruit quality and flavor. This testing was done by growers and Rutgers extension scientists.

“The cultivar was officially released in February 2016 amid the 250th anniversary of Rutgers,” Orton said.

He said that the “Rutgers 250” is much more superior to the other versions of “Rutgers” available in 2019.

Orton added that it is highly adapted to climate and growing conditions in New Jersey, has a strong vine and is tolerant of New Jersey diseases, and holds an impressive yield.

“They exhibit consistently high flavor and excellent, uniform color,” Orton said. “Finally, since the cultivar is open-pollinated, home gardeners can save their own seeds for subsequent years.”