Extending the Market Season with High Tunnel Technology for Organic Fruit Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2012: $214,948.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2015
Region: Southern
State: Arkansas
Principal Investigator:
Dr. Curt Rom
University of Arkansas

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Fruits: berries (blueberries), berries (brambles)


  • Education and Training: extension, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research, workshop
  • Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns
  • Pest Management: biological control, cultural control, field monitoring/scouting, integrated pest management, physical control, weather monitoring
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture

    Proposal abstract:

    Fruit farm sustainability can be improved by extending the season to capture high-value markets, reducing environmental and production risk, and reducing inputs. High tunnels (HT) have the potential to achieve those goals. Blueberries and blackberries, , have a limited harvest/market season during the-summer in a field production system (FD). Raspberries are not well adapted to the southern region. However, our previous research demonstrated that HT overcame this limitation . With HT advancing spring production and extending the autumn harvest season 4 to 6 weeks compared to FD, the normal 4 week FD berry harvest season was extended to 4 months as a system. Tunnels, thereby, have the potential of improving the economic and environmental sustainability of these crops. Our research indicated that HT extended the season, generated more harvests, produced higher marketable yields, increased fruit quality and reduced crop loss to weather. HT production reduced some pests but resulted in potential pest problems requiring additional research. HT provided the opportunity for organic production by altering the growing season of the crops outside normal pest life-cycles, altering the microenvironment, increasing the longevity of pest management applications (chemicals or beneficial insects) and by excluding some pests and diseases. . In previous research we determined that cultivar selection had significant influence on adaptability to HT systems; Tunnels may be modified to further advance and/or extend the season;. Pests must be managed differently in HT compared to FD. Additional research is needed to maximize the opportunity for season extension, pest management, and to understand the economics of HT production in combination with FD production. This project proposes to study organic berry production in HT and FD systems to: 1) advance farm sustainability with a potential for expanded market and crop value, 2) improve pest and disease management, 3) develop production budgets and decision support tools to help producers make sound economic decisions, and 4) develop outreach and educational materials to transfer technology from research/demonstration into practice. This project is a phase-II follow-up to research funded by USDA-OREI and OFRF completed in 2010. It capitalizes on established HT structures and experience, at both UA and grower co-PI sites, moving the technology torward farm implementation. It is proposed that organic production with HT and FD systems for berries be analyzed under two studies. In Study 1, summer-produced blueberries and floricane blackberries, will be advanced using HT. A second study will utilize autumn-fruiting blackberries and raspberries grown in HT to extend the season beyond the killing frosts. Within both studies, pest and disease incidence will be evaluated and methods of reducing damage will be studied using exclusion, trapping, environmental modification, and organic treatments. Cost of management and production systems will be recorded to create production budgets and decision support tools for producers. Field days, workshops, webinars, a berry school and a project blog with videos and project information will deliver a comprehensive outreach program to producers and extension agents. Information gathered from the project will be used to develop a regional Berry Sustainability Assessment Workbook

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The goal of the project is to develop an environmentally and economically sustainable organic fruit production systems combining HT production with traditional FD production and providing for further expansion of organic crop production in the southern region.
    The specific project objectives are:

    1. To develop High Tunnel (HT) production systems for season extension of organic high value fruit crops for the southern region.
    2. To develop and test pest management strategies for organic HT crop production systems adapted to the southern region.
    3. To estimate economic models and to create decision support tools that help producers to manage production systems for profitability considerations
    4. To extend the knowledge acquired through the production, pest management, and economic analyses into a multi-dimensional educational, outreach, and extension program.

    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.