From the Hangars

Seeding History: Delta's Revolutionary Tomato Trip

Nov 22, 2020

Not long ago Buddy Bryan, a Delta flyer and south Georgia native, shared about a particular event in Delta history. In early May of 1945, Delta Air Lines pulled off a first for the airline emergency experiment of shipping and transplanting tomato plants from Georgia to Ohio. 

Bryan's family has farmed in Tift County, Georgia for generations dating back to 1910. In previous years the hot weather and heavy rains in South Georgia caused tomato plants to grow ahead of schedule, thus they became too large for successful transplanting when transported by rail to northern farms after their cold snaps. The trip took approximately three days by express ground transportation and would often be too long a journey for such mature plants. A solution was needed.


Enter Delta. Instead of losing thousands of plants to extensive train travel, a four hour flight seemed just the ticket to keeping the transplanting window much shorter, so Delta removed the seats from a 21-passenger DC-3 and loaded the plants. Even at ten years old, Buddy Bryan remembered seeing the plants tied 50 to a bunch and placed in crates like the ones pictured. 

Former Delta Air Lines Superintendent of Air Cargo, Paul Pate, secured special permission to use charter flights carrying roughly 160,000 tomato plants from Tift County, Georgia to the H.J. Heinz company farms near Bowling Green, Ohio. On the first shipment plant pathologists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted tests to check the effects of altitude, temperature and humidity fluctuations on the plants. Without significant effects the experiment was considered an overall success!


The tomato plants were pulled from the soil in Tifton, Georgia at 8 a.m. and were replanted by 5 p.m. in Ohio. The experiment provided an earlier planting date, reduced plant costs to farmers, and reduced crop damage due to weather.

The first two shipments totaled 320,000 plants and weighed roughly five tons and Delta became the first airline to fly living vegetable plants.

Many thanks to the Bryan family for inspiring this post and for making world history, Delta history.  


Austin Coleman


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