High tunnels create microclimates for specialty crops

Growers will learn how to optimize high tunnels to alter temps, light, water and wind.

Two women talking under inside a high tunnel structure on farm
Urban farmer Stacey Givens and Kim Galland from USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service talk about the benefits of high tunnel at the Side Yard Farm in Portland, Oregon. Photo courtesy of USDA.

Precision, reducing risk and return on investment – nothing impacts those three keys to any farmer’s bottom line more than the weather. Damaging weather events are hard to predict, add risk and reduce profits.

But technological advancements, including the installation of high tunnels, can help farmers deal with unpredictable and volatile weather events.

Fruit and vegetable growers will learn how high tunnels can optimize production strategies at Michigan State University’s Agriculture Innovation Day: Focus on Fruit and Vegetable Technologies on June 28 at MSU’s Southwest Research and Extension Center in Benton Harbor, Michigan. A general talk on high tunnels will be presented by a group of experts led by Gregory Lang, an MSU professor in the Department of Horticulture, who says growers will learn the pros and cons of installing high tunnels and ultimately whether it makes financial sense for them.

“High tunnels allow you to better control the changing climate and optimize the microclimate of your crops,” Lang said. “Rain, temperature, wind and light – these are all things that you can influence with the installation of high tunnels.”

High tunnels are simply polyethylene plastic secured to steel hoops over crops. They mimic a lot of the advantages of a traditional greenhouse but at a fraction of the cost. The issue for growers, Lang said, is that even at that reduced cost it is a significant investment for many growers.

“Growers see the clear benefits as soon as we begin talking to them about it, but they’re just not sure if they can make it work economically.”

That’s why, Lang said, it’s important to not just learn the benefits of high tunnels, but whether it makes sense for your particular growing situation and market, possible intended and unintended ramifications and also how to maximize your return on investment.

After the general session in the morning, there will be three additional sessions covering high tunnel strategies specific to berry growers, wine grape growers and vegetable growers.

“Changing rainfall affects disease and irrigation; changing the light environment affects disease and potential insects – it all has a cascading effect,” Lang said.

And those cascading effects can have a big impact on profits for many growers, according to Lang.

“We’re going to give you a broader understanding, review cost-benefit analysis and help you understand if it’s right for you,” Lang said.

MSU Agriculture Innovation Day: Focus on Fruit and Vegetable Technologies, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. June 28 at the MSU Southwest Research and Extension Center in Benton Harbor, Michigan, offers a variety of fruit, vegetable and grape growing technologies, including the latest information on pollinators and equipment. The event has been approved for Restricted Use Pesticide Credits (6 credits) and Certified Crop Advisor CEUs in Integrated Pest Management, Crop Management, Soil and Water Management and Sustainability. For detailed session descriptions, visit http://www.canr.msu.edu/msu_agriculture_innovation_day/ or contact Ron Bates at batesr@msu.edu.

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