Supporting New High-Tunnel Vegetable Growers with a Comprehensive Crop Management Approach

Progress report for LNE22-445

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2022: $199,688.00
Projected End Date: 02/28/2025
Grant Recipient: University of Vermont
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
Dr. Margaret Skinner
University of Vermont
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Project Information

Performance Target:

Fifty new northern New England vegetable growers will each adopt three recommended best practices (BP) to manage their high-tunnel crops on a total of ~200,000 sq. ft., and 75% will meet their annual economic and crop production goals. BPs will be tailored to their individual production goals, and include scouting for pests, diseases and nutrient deficiencies; handling problems proactively and amending cropping areas based on soil tests.


Problem/Opportunity: Northeastern climatic conditions are changing. Weather events are more extreme and less predictable. Production within high tunnels extends the growing season and provides more consistent growing conditions, allowing for cultivation of sensitive high-value crops. Growing vegetables in protected environments is critical to ensure a stable supply of locally-grown produce year-round and for the long-term sustainability and economic viability of diversified agriculture in the Northeast. We estimate >18,000 high tunnels cover >36 million sq.ft in the Northeast, with numbers increasing annually aided in part by USDA-NRCS incentive programs. While some growers have used high tunnels for decades, many are new. The number of young, new and beginning producers in US agriculture is increasing whereby producers in operation for <5 years increased 17% from 2012-2017, particularly in the East, and 25-40% of Northeastern farms were operated by new/beginning producers. Over 11% of producers in six of the 13 Northeastern states were ≤35 years old. Many lack knowledge about unique high-tunnel soil fertility demands and pest/disease management. Regional surveys of high tunnel growers reported implementation levels for key best practices, showing gaps in adoption to include in future educational programs. For example, most growers did routine scouting and maintained good ventilation, but <50% used beneficials or microbial insecticides, requested pest/disease id from specialists or used trap/indicator/habitat plants; <60% felt confident calculating fertilizer rates, 50% did soil tests, and 30% tested soluble salts. This project’s team members are frequently contacted by producers with new tunnels, who seek assistance with crop selection and management, and developing water/nutrient and pest management plans. Evaluations from previous events demonstrate that new producers are intimidated by highly technical, advanced discussions and ask for the basics. Best practices (BP) exist for high-tunnel production, but are splintered and hard to assimilate. A guide of current BPs is needed that compiles the multiple components together. There are conferences for growers to learn about high-tunnel production, but new growers need one-on-one, hands-on training tailored to their knowledge level and goals, supplemented with web-based educational materials to adopt them. Through this project we will meet growers where they are, with more basic information and practical resources. 

Solution and Approach: A 3-pronged educational program will introduce new growers to integrated approaches for managing arthropod pests, diseases, and soil fertility in high-tunnel vegetables. 1) New VT and NH growers will receive one-on-one training from team members. Growers will identify their crop production/protection goals to ensure training meets their specific needs. Site visits and on-line sessions will be held to develop crop production plans. On-farm demonstrations will showcase adoption of BPs and connect new and experienced growers to share knowledge as part of a learning community. 2) Information from grower interactions will inform development of educational materials, which will be compiled into a High-Tunnel Production Toolkit for both new and experienced growers in a user-friendly format. 3) Workshop sessions targeted to needs of new growers will be held at our established regional high-tunnel conferences. These conferences continue a 7-year tradition and are tailored for growers of all skill levels across the Northeast. BP adoption will be tracked through surveys and personal interviews to determine which practices offer the greatest benefits in terms of crop yield and quality. 



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  • Dr. Cheryl Frank Sullivan (Researcher)
  • Dr. Rebecca Sideman (Researcher)
  • Dr. Anna Wallingford (Researcher)
  • Rebecca Maden (Researcher)
  • Dr. Ann Hazelrigg (Researcher)
  • Heather Bryant (Educator)


Involves research:
Participation Summary


Educational approach:

Our three-pronged educational program will introduce new growers to integrated approaches for managing arthropod pests, diseases, and soil fertility in high-tunnel vegetables; while expanding knowledge among experienced growers.

Engagement: As described above, our project team has strong links with growers and ag service providers within their state and regionally, and extensive past and present experience working with growers and participating in educational events. These connections will be used to recruit new high-tunnel growers for the individualized program; encourage grower attendance at our onsite and online sessions; solicit input on grower production needs; and disseminate resources we produce. The team members work directly with growers, in multiple capacities, including identifying pests and diseases; advising on IPM and soil/crop fertility plans and variety selection; presenting information at state and regional workshops/conferences; and serving on regional vegetable production committees. In addition, UVM maintains several active email lists linking growers regionally. Through these diverse functions, the team has an established reputation for meeting grower production needs. Recruitment of grower participants will be done by word-of-mouth to the vast network of UNH and UVM Extension personnel and via our grower email lists. We will also circulate information via state/regional websites and newsletters (VT Agriview, Morning Ag Clips, NE IPM Center, etc.). We will work individually with 18 new growers (6/year) through a multi-step educational program, in which growers will receive intensive support in year one with on-site visits, which will be phased out over 2 years. As growers come on board they will receive additional support networks via email, telephone and farmer-to-farmer webinars. By design, educational programs will be tailored to needs identified by each grower to ensure they receive the assistance they want to overcome production challenges. In addition, the proposed High Tunnel Toolkit (see curriculum section) will be a compilation of resources (factsheets, webinettes, videos) to provide information to the 18 growers who receive intensive training, and the broader audience of new and experienced high-tunnel growers. The toolkit will be accessible online at the UVM high-tunnel website and will be designed to be as grower-friendly as possible, using brief focused documents or videos with lots of pictures, and minimal words. Sessions within NE high-tunnel conferences will be presented that focus specifically on the needs of new high-tunnel growers, drawing on our experiences with the 18 growers with whom we work intensively.    

Learning: The content of our educational programs will be an evolving process based on feedback and input from participating growers and will be responsive to their knowledge level. Though we will focus on needs of new growers, experienced producers and technical service providers will also benefit from our programs. In Year 1, we will rely on information generated from a recent survey of New England high-tunnel producers conducted by the team. It revealed that many growers did not feel comfortable calculating fertilizer rates, were unsure about irrigation strategies, and were concerned about soluble-salt buildup. A majority said that identification tools for diseases and pests, lists of pest-resistant varieties, management tools for specific pests/diseases, and guidelines for high-tunnel fertility management would be useful. The following production issues were identified problems: foliar diseases, insect damage to fruit, and fruit cracking. Growers listed the following resources as those that would be very helpful: web-based pest management information, action thresholds, lists of resistant plant varieties, identification tools for diseases, pests and nutrient deficiencies, biocontrol guidelines for high tunnels and guidelines for soil fertility and irrigation. All these subjects will be included in the toolkit and a focus of online and onsite educational events. 

Evaluation: For the 18 new growers, we will conduct pre- and post-season surveys of their production challenges in person or via email or telephone. Pre-season surveys will determine their learning goals. Post-season surveys will substantiate BP adoption, and provide insights into why adoption may not have occurred and how to improve modes of information delivery.  Growers will be asked if BP adoption contributed to their achievement of annual economic and crop production goals. Attendees to onsite and online educational programs (webinars, demonstrations, conferences) will be surveyed to determine program content usefulness. Growers will be asked how long they have used high tunnels; results will be analyzed to detect differences relative to experience. Growers will be surveyed regarding their educational needs to improve production and resource gaps. They will also be asked how they prefer to receive information that helps them manage their high-tunnel production challenges. These surveys will enable us to track changes in adoption of key best practices over the project period.



Summary: We have made considerable progress on several milestones as indicated by our verification tools. In year 1 we focused our efforts on identifying suitable growers with whom to work and establishing the framework for the High Tunnel Tool Kit and setting up the advisory committee to define our educational goals. In year 2, we focused on engaging new farmers in the one-on-one IPM training program, developing educational materials, conducing webinars and organized a regional high tunnel conference. This project has brought together a multi-disciplinary multi-state team of ag specialists which is critical for project success given the complexity of high tunnel vegetable production. Based on grower surveys, observations and informal discussions with project participants, the project has effectively supported high tunnel vegetable producers with useful information that they have adopted, resulting in more crop production. Growers just love site visits! They say that makes all the difference.

  1. Engagement: 3 new high-tunnel growers and 4 service providers take part in advisory committee meetings to develop appropriate and useful educational programs and resources on high-tunnel vegetable production and provide input on how to refine and improve educational content and project delivery. Completion: December 2024. All project team members will take part in the meetings, M. Skinner will coordinate meetings and summarize outcomes. At least one meeting will be held annually.

Milestone 1: Participation by the Advisory Committee. Attendance at these meetings and the extent of contributions provided by the members will serve as a way to assess the effectiveness of the committee. A summary of the outcomes from the meetings will document results.

M1 Status: In Progress

M1 Accomplishments: Two advisory committee meetings were held: January 23, 2023; 15 attendees and January 24, 2024; 9 attendees. In these meetings, we discussed activities we plan for the future and topics of interest to growers, such as for inclusion in webinars, factsheet and worksheets, conferences and additional links to add to our project webpage. Summaries of the meetings were prepared and shared with all on the committee.

  1. Learning: 18 new high-tunnel growers participate in intensive one-on-one hands-on training programs throughout the 3-year project period to learn about pest/disease, irrigation and soil fertility of high-tunnel vegetables, working with project staff to develop/implement individualized plans to address their specific challenges. All will take part in pre- and post-production evaluations to assess their adoption of new practices. Completion: November 2024. All project team members will work with growers, M. Skinner will compile impact results.

Milestone 2. Hands-on one-on-one training program for new growers. This type of program has been used by the UVM Entomology Research Lab group for several years for their IPM One-on-One program for greenhouse ornamentals and found it an effective means of identifying individual grower needs and goals as well as determining the level of adoption of new practices. Some growers have reduced their chemical insecticide use by 90% because of that program. The 18 new high-tunnel growers from VT and NH recruited for the program will be asked to complete a pre-season survey to identify their priorities in terms of learning new best practices (BPs) appropriate for their operation. This survey will be adapted from one UVM has used in the past which effectively determined grower needs. Through the pre-season survey, we will gather data on the length of time they have grown vegetables in high tunnels, the area of high-tunnel production, challenges to their production, and gaps in their knowledge. This will serve as the basis for their training program. Because the training is individualized for each grower, specific BPs cannot be specified here. The same growers will be asked to complete a post-season survey by email or telephone, or both. Results will demonstrate growers if adopted the BPs introduced to them, and if the BP resulted in increased crop yield or quality, or reduced production costs. Interviews will enable us to determine why a BP was not adopted. If it is a result of how the training was done, changes in the mode of outreach will be redesigned. If it is because the BP wasn’t practical or suitable, revisions to the BP itself will be considered.

M2 Status: In Progress

M2 Accomplishments: We enlisted 18 new growers (12 in VT, 6 in NH, including advisory committee growers) who received one-on-one training on their farms. Each participant received a survey prior to working one-on-one with them to determine the major topics they would like to focus on. When asked about what information would help them improve how they manage pests, diseases and crop and soil fertility, 89% said providing site visits by specialists, 78% specified short instructional videos and 72% wanted written factsheets individualized management programs established for their operation. When asked what informational resources would be the most helpful to them to improve crop fertility management in their tunnels, 89% specified information on how to identify plant deficiencies, 78% wanted specific guidelines for use of specific sources of fertility and 72% needed local guidelines for fertility management.  When asked what resources or information would be the most helpful to them for improving management of insect and diseases, the top resources were identification tools for diseases and pests (83%), a pest and disease id service (78%) and action thresholds (78%). They were also asked to identify 3 specific goals to work on when taking part in the program. Each received at least one site visit from project team members. Over the two years of the project, 50 site visits and over 100 email/text exchanges were made. A checklist of best practices (BP) was created for use during routine/follow-up visits to assess topic adoption (i.e., soil testing, pest scouting, etc.). Sustained adoption of components of the checklist will be assessed in year 3.

  1. Engagement/Evaluation: Of 600 growers who receive a survey about their current high-tunnel fertilization and pest management practices and challenges via email; 125 complete it (20% participation). Results will form basis of educational programs and High-Tunnel Toolkit content. Two surveys will be conducted: May 2022 and December 2024. Completion: January 2025. Project team will assist with developing and distributing surveys, M. Skinner will compile results.

Milestone 3. Regional Grower Surveys. An online survey of high tunnel vegetable growers will be conducted in Year 1 and 3 of the project. This will be adapted from one conducted by Becky Sideman and other project team members in 2016 and 2019. That survey focused specifically on high-tunnel tomato production. The scope of our survey will be expanded to include other crops grown in high tunnels and information about how long they have been growing vegetables in high tunnels. By using the basic format of the past survey, it will be possible to assess changes in grower adoption over an 8-year period. We will send a link for the survey to all email lists associated with vegetable production. We anticipate at least 600 growers will receive the survey and 125 will complete it (20% participation). Through this survey, participants will be asked what their major pest, disease, soil fertility and irrigation issues are in high tunnel vegetable production. They will also be asked for information on current cropping practices and use of key BPs. They will also be asked in what format would they prefer information to address these issues. Results from this survey will form the basis of the content of the Toolkit and educational subjects of the Year 1 conference.

M3 Status: In Progress

M3 Accomplishments: We used results from previous New England High Tunnel Conference evaluations and the results from the surveys from the new tunnel growers recruited for the one-on-one component to identify topics suitable for new growers for the 2023 conference (see milestones 3 and 8).  We modified the original regional high tunnel survey and will distribute this in February 2024 to several listservs project collaborators maintain. We anticipate reaching over 3,500 growers from these outlets.

  1. Engagement and Evaluation: Of the 50 new growers and 150 experienced growers who attend one of our events, 50% will use a high-tunnel soil test the following season, and 40% will implement soil nutrient recommendations. Two follow up surveys (winter/spring 2023; winter 2024) will be sent to participants to document practice adoption and resulting changes in crop quality and yield. Completion: December 2024. R. Maden will lead follow ups and document results.

Milestone 4. Soil testing and nutrient management. Growers at various educational events, including our conferences, and online and onsite educational events, will be surveyed throughout the project to determine changes in grower adoption of routine soil testing procedures and their level of implementation of recommendations. We anticipate reaching at least 200 new and experienced growers, and obtaining a survey participation rate of 20%. Barriers to adoption will be determined and adjustments made in our Toolkit to overcome the barriers.

M4 Status: In Progress

M4 Accomplishments: A checklist of BPs was created for use during routine site visits to assess topic adoption (i.e., soil testing). 3 soil health sessions were offered during the 2023 New England High Tunnel Conference (milestone 8; 147 attendees). One was during the “Hands-On High Tunnel School” on day 1 and focused on turning your soil tests into practical recommendations. Attendees viewed soil test results and walked through various amendments to increase fertility. Growers were also encouraged to bring their own soil test results for interpretation. Participants indicated an overall increase in knowledge by 19%. Soil steaming and cover cropping sessions were also held with participants reporting a 32% increase in knowledge. 18 growers in the one-on-one training learned the importance of soil testing in high tunnels. Of those, 44% learned how to take soil/tissue samples and interpret results. Conference attendees and one-on-one growers will be surveyed in fall of 2024 to assess sustained adoption of techniques since receiving training offered through this project.


  • 4 presentations related to soil health (492 people reached)
  • 1 factsheet Soil Testing in High Tunnels (distributed to over 3500 people).
  • 2 Newsletter blurbs (reached over 900 people).
  • 8 growers from one-on-one training learned how to take soil/tissue samples and interpret results
  1. Engagement and Evaluation. Of the 50 new growers and 150 experienced growers who attend our high-tunnel educational events, 25 new growers and 25 experienced growers will share documentation of soil test results, soil nutrient inputs, planting dates, plant density, crop harvest quantity and quality. April 2022, 2023, 2024. Completion: December 2024. R. Maden will coordinate surveys and analyze the data.

Milestone 5. Soil testing and nutrient management impact. Growers at various educational events, including our conferences, and online and onsite educational events, will be surveyed throughout the project to determine grower adoption of soil testing and the benefits of their inputs based on crop harvest quality and quantity. We anticipate reaching at least 200 new and experienced growers, and obtaining a survey participation rate of 20%.

M5 Status: Not Begun

M5 Accomplishments: Conference attendees and growers in one-on-one training will be surveyed in year 3 to assess adoption of techniques (also see milestone 4 above).

  1. Learning: 500 growers learn key best practices via a newsletter to the GreenGrower email list containing seasonal information regarding current pest issues, reminders about carrying out time-sensitive production tasks, tips on pest, disease, irrigation and soil fertility management, and announcements for regional educational events. This will occur quarterly (Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter) until January 2025. Readership number will be tracked by C.F. Sullivan and subscribers will be surveyed annually.

Milestone 6. Newsletter articles. A quarterly newsletter for growers subscribing to the online grower list Greengrower will be produced with articles of seasonal applicability. Currently the email list has 400 subscribers, but we anticipate an increase to at least 500 when we begin to provide regular updates and educational material. The effectiveness of the articles will be assessed by how many read them, and increases in readership over time. Subscribers will be surveyed to determine usefulness of the newsletter.

M6 Status: In Progress

M6 Accomplishments: We produced our first a high tunnel newsletter “High & Dry: Growing Vegetables in Northern New England High Tunnels”. Issue 1, Fall 2023 was distributed to over 3500 people on project collaborator email lists (GreenGrower, HighTunnels, VVBGA, UNH Extension and beyond). The first issue had 4 articles that focused on nighttime scouting for cutworms, winter diseases, avoiding aphid FALLout and controlling rodent problems. Issue 2, Winter 2024 is in press and we will continue to prepare these for the duration of this project and beyond. In Dec. 2024, we will evaluate the usefulness of the newsletter using a brief online survey.

  1. Learning: 100 new and experienced high-tunnel growers attend educational events in VT and NH (demonstrations, twilight meetings, webinars, etc.) and learn about total crop management tactics (IPM, soil testing, disease control, soil management, etc.). Attendee feedback will be collected via online evaluations. April 2022-December 2024. All project team members will work with growers, M. Skinner and B. Sideman will compile impact results.

Milestone 7. Online and onsite demonstration events. Educational events will be held throughout the project using different formats (online as well as onsite). This ensures we reach a wide audience over a large geographical area with the online sessions, but also have face-to-face sessions, which encourage farmer-to farmer exchange. We anticipate reaching at least 100 growers through these events, at least 20% of them new growers. Attendees will be asked to complete a survey after each event which will include questions about the usefulness of the sessions and grower adoption of the BPs introduced. We hope for a return rate of 10%.

M7 Status: In Progress

M7 Accomplishments: We continue to offer webinars and on-farm workshops that focus on tunnel production for new high tunnel growers and are considering a webinar/video series for new high tunnel growers in 2024. To date, we offered 1 on-site regional conference (see milestone 8), 2 on-farm workshops and 7 webinars. A survey will be distributed to those that attended high tunnel-specific webinars in Nov 2024 to determine usefulness of the sessions and knowledge gain.

  1. Learning: 100 new high-tunnel vegetable growers take part in at least one of our sessions for new growers at our regional high-tunnel conferences and 30 indicate in surveys that they implemented or intend to implement three recommended BPs in their high tunnels. Post conference surveys will track adoption. M. Skinner and B. Sideman will compile impact results. Dec. 2022 and Dec. 2024.

Milestone 8. Conference sessions for new high-tunnel growers. Presentations at the regional High-Tunnel Conferences in Year 1 and 3 of our project will be tailored to the needs of new growers. Surveys of all conference attendees will be conducted to gather further information on grower issues in high tunnel vegetable production. We will ask how long growers have been growing vegetables in their high tunnels to gain insights on the value of our sessions to meet their specific needs. The survey of attendees to the Year 1 conference will serve as baseline data on the level of experience and adoption of BPs. The survey of conference attendees in Year 3 will provide evidence of the change in grower adoption. We anticipate attendance of at least 100/conference, and a survey return rate of 20% (at least 40 responses).

M8 Status: In Progress

M8 Accomplishments: We organized and hosted the 4th, biennial, New England High Tunnel Conference on December 6-7, 2023 at the Fireside Inn in West Lebanon, NH. This event brought together regional vegetable production specialists and scientists, farmers and agricultural service providers and researchers from Purdue. There were 147 total participants. 15 presentations were offered to attendees. The first day was a Hands-on High Tunnel School, specifically for new tunnel growers, with 3 engaging sessions about identifying insects (pests and beneficials), turning soil tests into practical recommendations, and identifying and managing common high tunnel diseases. The second day had a variety of topics covered including: soil steaming, cover crops, wintertime biological control, water management, irrigation strategies, economics of biocontrol and more.

  • Attendees gave both the overall program and the speaker presentations a 4.5/5 with 5 being excellent.
  • 8 US states represented (IN, ME, NH, VT, MA, NY, RI, CT), and two Canadian provinces.
  • Of the farmer attendees, 24% were new growers with a total of 103,488 sq ft tunnel space.
  • 37% of the conference attendees identified as female, 1% identified non-binary; 4.7% identified as non-white (Asian, Black or African American, or mixed Indian and American), 51% were between the ages of 30-59.
  • We offered a farm tour as part of the program. Over 97% indicated they would like to see these offered in future.
  • Participants indicated they gained knowledge after attending each session. For the “Hands-on High Tunnel School” specifically for new grower’s, attendees indicated a 22% increase in knowledge by attending.
  1. Learning: 1,000 growers learn about habitat plants, pest/disease management and crop nutrition recommendations and other BPs through printed handouts or the web-based High-Tunnel Toolkit produced by project personnel. Grower surveys will document adoption. April 2022-December 2024. All project team members will work on the resources, C.F. Sullivan will track website hits.

Milestone 9. High-Tunnel Toolkit and website. To compile our issue-based resources into a High-Tunnel Toolkit, input from new and experienced growers will be sought in Year 1 through a survey. In addition to the surveys, data will be maintained on the number of hits on the UVM High Tunnel website. The extent to which growers refer to the online Toolkit will indicate the value of that resource to the user group. The survey will be repeated in Year 3. This will demonstrate the measurable benefits of the online Toolkit.

M9 Status: In Progress

M9 Accomplishments: A webpage has been developed for this project ( It has received over 1125 hits. We continue to create and link content (i.e., webinars, factsheets, related links, etc.). We conducted an extensive resource search on the web and compiled a database of resources suitable for new growers. We will continue to link to these as we screen their content.

  1. Learning/Evaluation: 100 new growers adopt at least one new practice learned through this project and report it helped them meet their annual economic and crop production goals. Grower surveys April 2022 and November 2024. Completion: December 2024. All project team members will work with growers, M. Skinner, B. Sideman and B. Maden will compile impact results.

Milestone 10. Improved crop production. In all surveys we conduct, growers will be asked if participating in our educational programs resulted in an increase in crop revenues, yield and quality as a result of adopting one or more of the BPs introduced in our educational programs. Results from the surveys will demonstrate enhanced crop production.

M10 Status: In Progress

M10 Accomplishments: Farmers who took part in all outreach activities will be surveyed in fall of 2024 to assess adoption of techniques and about crop yields since receiving training offered through this project.

Milestone Activities and Participation Summary

Educational activities:

152 Consultations
8 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
7 Published press articles, newsletters
27 Webinars / talks / presentations
6 Other educational activities: 1 database of NH and VT growers.
1 high tunnel resource list/database.
1 new grower recruitment flyer and dissemination across NH and VT.
1 Regional Conference
2 advisory meetings held and summarized to discuss direction of educational activities.

Participation Summary:

1,060 Farmers participated
20 Number of agricultural educator or service providers reached through education and outreach activities

Learning Outcomes

130 Farmers reported changes in knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness as a result of their participation

Performance Target Outcomes

Target #1

Target: number of farmers:


Target: change/adoption:

Each will adopt three recommended best practices (BP) to manage their high-tunnel crops. 44% of conference attendees said they intend to use knowledge they learned at the conference. Its too early to assess adoption for one-on-one farmers and adoption of practices from events.

Target: amount of production affected:

> 590,000 sq. ft

Target: quantified benefit(s):

75% will meet their annual economic and crop production goals.

Actual: change/adoption:

Will be assessed in year 3

Actual: amount of production affected:

Will be assessed in year 3

Actual: quantified benefit(s):

Will be assessed in year 3

Additional Project Outcomes

3 Grants applied for that built upon this project
1 Grant received that built upon this project
$100,168.00 Dollar amount of grant received that built upon this project
53 New working collaborations
Additional Outcomes:

We organized and executed the 4th, biennial, Regional High Tunnel Conference on December 6-7, 2023 at the Fireside Inn in West Lebanon, NH. This event brought together regional vegetable production specialists and scientists, farmers and agricultural service providers and researchers from Purdue. There were over 147 participants.  Program

Success stories:

#1 Many vegetable growers have turned to production in high tunnels to avoid loss due to the unpredictable nature of weather in recent years, thought to be linked with climate change. Some of the new high tunnel growers lack knowledge about crop production in protected environments and are unfamiliar with the unique IPM demands in this setting. Often it takes a few years before the pests and diseases build to up to levels causing significant damage or crop loss. Our project specifically focuses on helping these new growers develop IPM skills, including the most basic of scouting their crops, identifying the pests and determining if releases of biological control agents would be useful. Several growers were recruited to receive one-on-one training on their farm to learn these skills. Two growers on our advisory committee, both new to high tunnel production, mentioned that before taking part in the program they had not used biological control or did so intermittently. They never felt it was very effective. As part of this project which linked with IPM Labs, a company that distributes natural enemies in the region, they received financial support to try biological control again, but this time with guidance from the University of Vermont entomologist. They said it made a huge difference, and they intend to continue to use them in the future based on the success last year.


#2 Since 2010, the USDA NRCS has funded over 400 high tunnels in Vermont, totaling 23 acres of protected crop land. Vermont’s food system generated $11.3 billion in 2017, an increase of 48% from 2007. Much of that revenue has come from high tunnel vegetables, and many of the producers are new growers who have been in business for less than 10 years. There is a steep learning curve for these new growers, and without support from specialists, they will likely not get the most out of their farm despite their greatest efforts. The farm visits we have made to new growers is really helping. One grower who received support through our one-on-one training emailed to say: “Happy fall; Thanks for all your help this summer with our high tunnels. We harvested more tomatoes than ever and finally brought some peppers to full red (and a bumper crop).” Ben of Firefly Farm at Burke Hollow. It is gratifying to hear that he was able to increase yield significantly as a result of a few well-timed site visits.

Assessment of Project Approach and Areas of Further Study:

Growers in our Advisory Committee were asked what methods were the most useful for them to receive IPM and crop production information. They said there are so many webinars offered these days and sometimes growers get overloaded with information. They just don’t have time to attend them all, and sometimes there is too much information offered and they can’t absorb it all. They said the most useful thing sometimes is a good picture. As they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” We will heed this advice as we prepare future educational resources.

Information Products

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.