Experiential High Tunnel Training for Cooperative Extension Service Agents in Kentucky

Progress report for ES19-148

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2019: $64,304.00
Projected End Date: 03/31/2022
Grant Recipient: University of Kentucky
Region: Southern
State: Kentucky
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Rachel Rudolph
University of Kentucky
Expand All

Project Information

Abstract:

High tunnel production has grown considerably in Kentucky since 2012. However, many growers still struggle with production challenges that are more commonly observed in high tunnel systems, such as soil salinity, appropriate fertilizer use, and season extension. Because high tunnels are still relatively new, many Cooperative Extension Service agents do not have the experience or information to properly assist high tunnel growers. The objective of this project is to better capacitate CES agents with accurate information and useful skills needed to better support the current and future high tunnel growers in their communities. A training series specific to high tunnels will be provided through the University of Kentucky. Agents from UK and Kentucky State University will be invited to participate in the two-year training series. UK Extension specialists will provide research-based information and resources, as well as instruction for hands-on experience in six different training sessions. Instruction and learning will happen both in the classroom and the field. Experienced growers will attend each training session and share their experiences with the agents and provide feedback to specialists after each training. Although the agents are the audience for the trainings, the ultimate audience is the growers who the agents will serve in their counties. Agents will be surveyed in order to assess each training session’s impact and evaluate whether changes to future sessions are necessary. At the 2021 completion of the training series, agents will be expected to lead a high tunnel-related training supervised by the project director.

Project Objectives:

The project objectives are to train Kentucky county CES agents to have a comprehensive understanding of high tunnel operations. At least six different workshops, each focusing on specific aspects of high tunnel production will be offered over the course of two years.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand

Education

Educational approach:

The project objectives are to train Kentucky county CES agents to have a comprehensive understanding of high tunnel operations.  To date, four trainings/workshops have been offered. Each has focused on specific aspects of high tunnel production.

To date agents have learned:

  • How to construct a high tunnel (15 x 40 ft) and be able to offer guidance and advice to growers with respect to proper site selection, construction details, and design features.
  • How to prepare the soil accordingly for crop production, and manage the soil sustainably and specifically for a high tunnel. How to explain this to growers and assist them when needed.
  • Crop management and soil preparation for warmer weather. Agents learned and put into practice how to transition from winter to spring, how to prepare a high tunnel for summer production, timing, frost protection, row cover use, crop selections, and dealing with winter cover crops.
  • The basics of IPM strategies specific to high tunnels and how to teach and provide recommendations to growers.
  • The cost associated with all aspects of a high tunnel system from construction to production to maintenance.
  • What it takes for a grower to prepare for market, have the tools to better understand their local market, and the costs associated with getting to market.

The goal of the training series is to provide accurate and current information to CES agents and equip them with useful skills related to high tunnels so that they are empowered and better able to assist the high tunnel growers, or potential high tunnel growers, in their counties. Two of the three trainings have been hands-on demonstrations that allow the agents to learn by doing. Because of the pandemic, the economic presentation and workshop was done virtually and a series of IPM presentations and videos were also presented virtually.

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Preparing the high tunnel for spring
Objective:

Teach agents how to teach growers about getting a high tunnel ready for spring.

Description:

This workshop focused on crop management and soil preparation for warmer weather. Agents were taught and were able to put into practice how to transition from winter to spring, how to prepare a high tunnel for summer production, timing, frost protection, crop selections, and dealing with winter cover crops. This included two presentations about temperature management and row cover use and winter cover crops. Two growers also spoke about their season extension experiences, how they prepare for spring, the precautions and risks they take.

After the presentations, the agents prepared two high tunnels for tomato transplanting. This included preparing the soil, learning how to use a walk-behind tiller, applying preplant fertilizer, preparing woven weed mat and laying it, placing hoops, and discussing the different row cover weights. Tomatoes were transplanted afterwards. Eleven agents participated.

Outcomes and impacts:

In the pre-workshop survey on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 meaning they feel like they know nothing and 5 meaning they feel so comfortable assisting a grower that they would be able to do so without the assistance of a specialist, the agents had the following responses:

#

Question

1

 

2

 

3

 

4

 

5

 

Total

1

Reasons for the use of various types of row cover

16.67%

2

41.67%

5

16.67%

2

25.00%

3

0.00%

0

12

2

Differences between various types of row cover

16.67%

2

25.00%

3

41.67%

5

16.67%

2

0.00%

0

12

3

Different equipment uses for soil preparations in high tunnels

8.33%

1

33.33%

4

16.67%

2

41.67%

5

0.00%

0

12

4

Cover crop varieties and management techniques

16.67%

2

33.33%

4

41.67%

5

8.33%

1

0.00%

0

12

5

High tunnel and row cover planting times

8.33%

1

41.67%

5

33.33%

4

16.67%

2

0.00%

0

12

6

High tunnel and row cover crop selection

25.00%

3

25.00%

3

33.33%

4

16.67%

2

0.00%

0

12

 

In the post-workshop survey with the same questions, we observed an marked increase in knowledge and understanding across all topics. The agents had the following responses:

#

Question

1

 

2

 

3

 

4

 

5

 

Total

1

Reasons for the use of various types of row cover

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

11.11%

1

55.56%

5

33.33%

3

9

2

Differences between various types of row cover

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

55.56%

5

44.44%

4

9

3

Different equipment uses for soil preparations in high tunnels

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

44.44%

4

55.56%

5

9

4

Cover crop varieties and management techniques

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

22.22%

2

44.44%

4

33.33%

3

9

5

High tunnel row cover planting times

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

22.22%

2

44.44%

4

33.33%

3

9

6

High tunnel row cover crop selection

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

22.22%

2

44.44%

4

33.33%

3

9

In the pre-workshop survey, when asked to rate their comfort and confidence level on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = not comfortable at all, 5 = so comfortable they would be able to assist a grower with a specialist), agents responded:

#

Question

1

 

2

 

3

 

4

 

5

 

Total

1

Advising producers on the benefits and challenges associated with row cover

16.67%

2

41.67%

5

25.00%

3

16.67%

2

0.00%

0

12

2

Advising producers on the construction of row cover

25.00%

3

25.00%

3

25.00%

3

25.00%

3

0.00%

0

12

3

Showing producers how to use and adjust equipment used for soil preparation

16.67%

2

41.67%

5

16.67%

2

25.00%

3

0.00%

0

12

4

Assisting producers on selecting the best cover crop for individual operations

16.67%

2

50.00%

6

16.67%

2

16.67%

2

0.00%

0

12

5

Advising producers on the optimal planting dates for specific crops

0.00%

0

58.33%

7

16.67%

2

25.00%

3

0.00%

0

12

6

Advising producers on the best crops to grow in high tunnels

8.33%

1

41.67%

5

50.00%

6

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

12

 

Again, in the post-workshop survey, we observed a large increase in comfort and confidence across all topics.

#

Question

1

 

2

 

3

 

4

 

5

 

Total

1

Advising producers on the benefits and challenges associated with row cover

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

22.22%

2

33.33%

3

44.44%

4

9

2

Advising producers on the construction of row cover

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

22.22%

2

44.44%

4

33.33%

3

9

3

Showing producers how to use and adjust equipment used for soil preparation

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

22.22%

2

33.33%

3

44.44%

4

9

4

Assisting producers on selecting the best cover crop for individual operations

0.00%

0

11.11%

1

22.22%

2

44.44%

4

22.22%

2

9

5

Advising producers on the optimal planting dates for specific crops

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

66.67%

6

33.33%

3

9

 

When asked what the most valuable aspect of the workshop was, agents replied:

difference between types of row covers.

after the first couple of years in a high tunnel you may experience different pest problems.

The app for calculating nitrogen and benefits of cover crops in high tunnel.

the different types of equipment and prepare the seedbed.

How to set up and prepare the inside of a high tunnel for planting and how to set up row covers.

Basic high tunnel information.

The hands on activity on the options for working the soil.

Setting up row covers.

various types of cover crops and challenges with using some of them.

 

When asked what they hope to implement or change in their county regarding high tunnel production after participating in the training, the agents responded:

I feel like I can better help producers that have high tunnels and actually conduct better farm visits.

I can be a source for high tunnel producers to use for information

Education of farmer’s market high tunnel folks on cover crops.

I constructed a high tunnel on my farm in Dec. 2019. I hope to host field days and have trainings there.

The different varieties of tillers they could use in high tunnels and also the different measures they can take if temperatures drop too low inside their tunnels.

I will be able to offer more hands on help. Now that I have seen some of these steps in person.

I can give better answers now that I have done it hands on.

increase the number of producers using high tunnels in order to enhance the farmer’s market.

The Management, Marketing, and Economics of High Tunnel Production
Objective:

Discuss with agents what to know before you build a high tunnel.

Description:

Dr. Tim Woods, UK Ag Economist, led the discussion and presentation of this training. Agents learned about the costs associated with producing in a high tunnel as well as the different markets available to growers, how to support a grower regardless of their type of market, and about crop pricing and deciding how much to plant/grow for production based on different markets. Two growers also spoke about their experience with marketing and how it has evolved over time and what they have learned along the way. This webinar was recorded as is available to UK and KSU agents.

 

 

Outcomes and impacts:

In the pre-webinar survey, agents were asked to rate their knowledge and understanding in the following areas on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = I know nothing, 5 = I have enough knowledge that I would not need to contact a specialist). Here are their responses:

#

Question

1

 

2

 

3

 

4

 

5

 

Total

1

Primary marketing advantages for producing out of a high tunnel

0.00%

0

17.86%

5

42.86%

12

32.14%

9

7.14%

2

28

2

Typical marketing channels for high tunnel producers

3.57%

1

14.29%

4

60.71%

17

21.43%

6

0.00%

0

28

3

How to do a market assessment

7.14%

2

46.43%

13

42.86%

12

3.57%

1

0.00%

0

28

4

Important product qualities local food consumers look for

0.00%

0

28.57%

8

35.71%

10

35.71%

10

0.00%

0

28

5

How to integrate important product qualities into a marketing plan

7.14%

2

39.29%

11

39.29%

11

14.29%

4

0.00%

0

28

6

Basic economic components of a high tunnel as a capital investment

14.29%

4

42.86%

12

32.14%

9

7.14%

2

3.57%

1

28

7

Measuring fixed costs

7.14%

2

35.71%

10

46.43%

13

7.14%

2

3.57%

1

28

8

Measuring net cash flow

7.14%

2

32.14%

9

42.86%

12

14.29%

4

3.57%

1

28

In the post-webinar survey, agents were asked the same questions. We observed an increase in their knowledge and understanding across all topics.

#

Question

1

 

2

 

3

 

4

 

5

 

Total

1

Primary marketing advantages for producing out of a high tunnel

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

12.50%

3

58.33%

14

29.17%

7

24

2

Typical marketing channels for high tunnel producers

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

20.83%

5

50.00%

12

29.17%

7

24

3

How to do a market assessment

4.17%

1

8.33%

2

33.33%

8

45.83%

11

8.33%

2

24

4

Important product qualities local food consumers look for

0.00%

0

4.17%

1

8.33%

2

62.50%

15

25.00%

6

24

5

How to integrate important product qualities into a marketing plan

0.00%

0

12.50%

3

25.00%

6

45.83%

11

16.67%

4

24

6

Basic economic components of a high tunnel as a capital investment

0.00%

0

4.17%

1

20.83%

5

58.33%

14

16.67%

4

24

7

Measuring fixed costs

0.00%

0

4.17%

1

29.17%

7

45.83%

11

20.83%

5

24

8

Measuring net cash flow

0.00%

0

8.33%

2

29.17%

7

58.33%

14

4.17%

1

24

 

 

In the pre-webinar survey, when asked to rate their comfort and confidence in the the following areas, here are how agents responded:

#

Question

1

 

2

 

3

 

4

 

5

 

Total

1

Primary marketing advantages for producing out of a high tunnel

7.14%

2

17.86%

5

42.86%

12

21.43%

6

10.71%

3

28

2

Typical marketing channels for high tunnel producers

10.71%

3

17.86%

5

50.00%

14

21.43%

6

0.00%

0

28

3

How to do a market assessment

7.14%

2

50.00%

14

39.29%

11

3.57%

1

0.00%

0

28

4

Important product qualities local food consumers look for

7.14%

2

25.00%

7

42.86%

12

21.43%

6

3.57%

1

28

5

How to integrate important product qualities into a marketing plan

14.29%

4

35.71%

10

42.86%

12

7.14%

2

0.00%

0

28

6

Basic economic components of a high tunnel as a capital investment

14.29%

4

32.14%

9

46.43%

13

7.14%

2

0.00%

0

28

7

Measuring fixed costs

10.71%

3

35.71%

10

46.43%

13

7.14%

2

0.00%

0

28

8

Measuring net cash flow

10.71%

3

39.29%

11

42.86%

12

7.14%

2

0.00%

0

28

 

In the post-webinar survey, the agents were asked the same questions. We observed an increase in comfort and confidence across all topics.

#

Question

1

 

2

 

3

 

4

 

5

 

Total

1

Primary marketing advantages for producing out of a high tunnel

0.00%

0

4.17%

1

16.67%

4

45.83%

11

33.33%

8

24

2

Typical marketing channels for high tunnel producers

0.00%

0

4.17%

1

12.50%

3

58.33%

14

25.00%

6

24

3

How to do a market assessment

4.17%

1

8.33%

2

33.33%

8

45.83%

11

8.33%

2

24

4

Important product qualities local food consumers look for

4.17%

1

0.00%

0

12.50%

3

54.17%

13

29.17%

7

24

5

How to integrate important product qualities into a marketing plan

4.17%

1

4.17%

1

25.00%

6

58.33%

14

8.33%

2

24

6

Basic economic components of a high tunnel as a capital investment

0.00%

0

4.17%

1

25.00%

6

58.33%

14

12.50%

3

24

7

Measuring fixed costs

0.00%

0

4.17%

1

29.17%

7

54.17%

13

12.50%

3

24

8

Measuring net cash flow

4.17%

1

4.17%

1

37.50%

9

45.83%

11

8.33%

2

24

Integrated Pest Management for Vegetable Production
Objective:

Provide agents with specific video tutorials for IPM issues.

Description:

In the midst of the pandemic, the in-person workshop was not possible. In lieu of meeting in-person, we decided to offer a series of short training videos that relate to managing pests, diseases, and nutritional issues. After each video, the specialist was available to answer questions from agents. The videos contained content on the following topics:

  • Leaf Tissue Sampling: Why do it, when it can be helpful and necessary, and how to sample properly to ensure consistent and helpful results.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRSBAz0cuBM
  • The Terrible Trio: Three insect pests that can pop up in high tunnel production, why they succeed inside, and some basic options for dealing with them.
  • Scouting for Pests: How, when, why
  • Sanitation for Disease Prevention
Outcomes and impacts:

In a pre-webinar survey, agent participants were asked to rate their knowledge or understanding on several topics on a scale of 1 to 5. (1 = I know nothing, 5 = I have enough knowledge that I would not need to contact a specialist)

#

Question

1

 

2

 

3

 

4

 

5

 

Total

1

How to properly collect a leaf tissue sample

25.00%

3

8.33%

1

25.00%

3

33.33%

4

8.33%

1

12

2

Why leaf tissue testing is helpful

8.33%

1

16.67%

2

41.67%

5

8.33%

1

25.00%

3

12

3

How to properly scout and monitor for insect pests

8.33%

1

0.00%

0

25.00%

3

58.33%

7

8.33%

1

12

4

Proper sanitation in a high tunnel

8.33%

1

16.67%

2

41.67%

5

25.00%

3

8.33%

1

12

5

Why sanitation is important to disease management

8.33%

1

0.00%

0

33.33%

4

25.00%

3

33.33%

4

12

6

Managing common pests in high tunnels

8.33%

1

0.00%

0

50.00%

6

41.67%

5

0.00%

0

12

Agents were also survey before the webinar on their comfort or confidence in the following areas. (1 = I am not confident at all, 5 = I am so confident that I would feel completely comfortable assisting the grower without the assistance of a specialist)

#

Question

1

 

2

 

3

 

4

 

5

 

Total

1

Teaching a grower how to properly collect a leaf tissue sample

25.00%

3

8.33%

1

33.33%

4

25.00%

3

8.33%

1

12

2

Explaining to a grower why leaf tissue testing is helpful and should be considered

8.33%

1

25.00%

3

41.67%

5

8.33%

1

16.67%

2

12

3

Showing a grower how to properly scout and monitor for insect pests

8.33%

1

0.00%

0

33.33%

4

33.33%

4

25.00%

3

12

4

Discussing with a grower proper sanitation in a high tunnel

8.33%

1

16.67%

2

41.67%

5

25.00%

3

8.33%

1

12

5

Discussing with a grower why sanitation is important to disease management

8.33%

1

8.33%

1

33.33%

4

25.00%

3

25.00%

3

12

6

Helping a grower with management of common pests in high tunnels

8.33%

1

8.33%

1

41.67%

5

41.67%

5

0.00%

0

12

 

In the post-webinar survey, agents reported an increase in knowledge or understanding.

#

Question

1

 

2

 

3

 

4

 

5

 

Total

1

How to properly collect a leaf tissue sample

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

16.67%

2

33.33%

4

50.00%

6

12

2

Why leaf tissue testing is helpful

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

50.00%

6

50.00%

6

12

3

How to properly scout and monitor for insect pests

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

25.00%

3

75.00%

9

12

4

Proper sanitation in a high tunnel

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

41.67%

5

58.33%

7

12

5

Why sanitation is important to disease management

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

25.00%

3

75.00%

9

12

6

Managing common pests in high tunnels

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

8.33%

1

33.33%

4

58.33%

7

12

 

Agents also reported an increase in comfort and confidence when it comes to discussing topics with a grower or teaching them a skill or method.

#

Question

1

 

2

 

3

 

4

 

5

 

Total

1

Teaching a grower how to properly collect a leaf tissue sample

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

25.00%

3

25.00%

3

50.00%

6

12

2

Explaining to a grower why leaf tissue testing is helpful and should be considered

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

16.67%

2

41.67%

5

41.67%

5

12

3

Showing a grower how to properly scout and monitor for insect pests

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

25.00%

3

75.00%

9

12

4

Discussing with a grower proper sanitation in a high tunnel

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

33.33%

4

66.67%

8

12

5

Discussing with a grower why sanitation is important to disease management

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

8.33%

1

25.00%

3

66.67%

8

12

6

Helping a grower with management of common pests in high tunnels

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

0.00%

0

50.00%

6

50.00%

6

12

 

High Tunnel Construction
Objective:

Provide agents with the opportunity and experience of building a high tunnel from the ground up so that they understand the time, labor, and considerations necessary for proper high tunnel construction.

Description:

This was a 3-day hands-on workshop where participants were taught how to select an appropriate site for a high tunnel, how to orient the tunnel, and how to construct a tunnel. Participants built a tunnel from the ground up. The tunnel has since served as a learning lab for the duration of the training series. The construction training was 3 days in order to construct the tunnel. There were two training date options for two different groups of agent participants to build one tunnel (15 x 44 ft) each. Two experienced growers also attended the training and spoke the the participants about their high tunnel construction experience, things they’ve learned along the way and wish they had known from the beginning. They also assisted with constructing the tunnels.

Outcomes and impacts:

Twelve agents participated in the training. A pre- and post-survey found increases in agents’ level of confidence and/or knowledge in the following areas:

  • advising growers on the challenges and considerations of high tunnels (73%),
  • advising growers on building a high tunnel (135%),
  • assisting with construction of a high tunnel (127%),
  • leading the construction of a high tunnel (124%),
  • reasons for using a high tunnel (30%),
  • proper high tunnel site selection (53%),
  • components of a high tunnel (81%),
  • purpose of the different components of a high tunnel (72%),
  • challenges and considerations a grower should know about before owning a high tunnel (56%).

Because of the training, agents indicated an intent to build a high tunnel for a community garden and an elementary school, encourage more growers to use high tunnels, and hold their own trainings for people interested in having a high tunnel. When asked what the most valuable thing they learned from the training, many agents said that the hands-on component of the training was the most useful. Other agents said that learning about the variability in selecting materials and the style of structure was the most valuable. Overall, the program was well received with an agent stating, “LOVED the workshop! Anything hands-on like this helps me learn and understand so much better than any PowerPoint presentation.” Several agents stated that it was the best workshop they had ever attended. The high tunnel construction workshop is part of a series of workshops, which will focus on providing hands-on training to Kentucky county agents in all aspects of the high tunnel system over the next two years.      

Educational & Outreach Activities

3 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
9 Webinars / talks / presentations
3 Workshop field days

Participation Summary

37 Extension
5 Researchers
1 Nonprofit
5 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

35 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
35 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

1 Grant received that built upon this project
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.