Thursday, June 28, 2012

High Tunnel Crop Talk Notes June 18, 2012

High Tunnel Crop Talk Notes June 18, 2012
Summary: Dr. David Conner, Univ. of Vermont, tells about research on economics of 12 hoophouses in Michigan: average net revenue $3000/yr and average effective 'wage' $9/hour. Farmers with higher profits put in more time in the 'shoulder' months of March, April and October. Current farm reports: in southwest Michigan, tomato and summer squash harvest from tunnels has begun. In northwest Indiana ground for a new tunnel is being prepared with summer green manure crops and compost.

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Dr. David Conner from Univ. of Vermont presented results of his economic research on high tunnel production in Michigan. Additional information is available in publications listed in the slides. Here's the link to the publication on business plans for hoophouses derived from this project: 'Model Business Plan for Season Extension with Hoophouses' 

Here are his slides:

Reports and Discussion:
Southeast Michigan: Last year a farm's first hoophouse resulted in much better yield and quality for tomatoes in the hoophouse than tomatoes in the field. In 2011, field tomatoes suffered first from dry conditions, then 3 inches of rain all at once, then hail, and then broken trellises. This year all tomatoes are in the hoophouse, and the first fruit has just been harvested. Summer squash from the tunnel will be harvested this Friday.
During the winter of 2011-2012, the farm produced salad mix, kale, chard and baby spinach in the hoophouse and sold them to local customers through online sales.  This system worked very well. The kale flowered (bolted) this spring (2012) and they went ahead and sold it as 'kale raab', instead of the standard 'broccoli raab.' Customers liked it and repeatedly bought the kale with flowers. Greens are washed in tubs on cinder blocks in the front of hoophouse. They try to schedule washing with sunnry weather and use insulated neoprene gloves. Other washing systems for greens are described by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at
The hoophouse was funded from the NRCS/EQIP program. It is covered with double poly and in winter months crops are covered with row covers supported on wire cables attached to t-posts. Other people have used plumbing conduit to support row cover over the crops.
The soil was very low organic matter. Leaf compost and peat were applied to beds before planting. Beds are mulched with pine needles or leaves after planting, and more compost applied on top of the mulch. Before each subsequent crop, additional leaf compost is applied to the beds and worked in with broad fork. The rate is about five 5-gallon buckets for every 24-ft. by 3-ft. bed. The house is arranged with 3-ft. paths along each edge, a 1-ft. path in the center, and 24-ft. X 3 ft. beds.
This farm's owner trained at the Michigan State University Student Organic Farm.

Northwest Indiana: A farm in northwest Indiana reports that the first high tunnel is under construction with plans to produce winter crops this year. A green manure of sudangrass, cowpea and buckwheat has been seeded following the prior crop of crimson clover. The cowpea was chosen for its taproot and nitrogen fixating ability, the sudangrass for biomass, and the buckwheat for a quick cover and soil fertility benefits. The mix will be mowed which should make the sudangrass tiller and form a thick stand. All of these crops should be killed by frost. They have been used on this farm in the past in advance of garlic seed production.  20 tons per acre of leaf compost has also been applied.

Information Resources:
For additional information on the economics of high tunnel vegetable production, check out the budgets recently published by the Leopold Center at Iowa State University. The information is based on production record of five Iowa farmers. Vegetable Production Budgets for a High Tunnel, by Linda Naeve and Craig Chase, ISU Extension PM 3025.

Notes by L. Maynard. Please get in touch with corrections or additions, or just post a comment.

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