Here Comes the Sun: Solar Power as Energy Source in Remote High Tunnel Ventilation Systems

Project Overview

FNE18-907
Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2018: $14,246.00
Projected End Date: 02/29/2020
Grant Recipient: T. L. Fruits and Vegetables LLC
Region: Northeast
State: West Virginia
Project Leader:
Tommye Rafes
T. L. Fruits and Vegetables LLC

Commodities

  • Vegetables: greens (leafy)

Practices

  • Crop Production: high tunnels or hoop houses
  • Education and Training: demonstration, farmer to farmer, networking, on-farm/ranch research
  • Energy: solar energy
  • Farm Business Management: apprentice/intern training
  • Sustainable Communities: quality of life, sustainability measures

    Proposal summary:

    A common challenge for all high tunnel growers is maintaining an optimum growing environment during the fall, winter and spring seasons because the temperatures can fluctuate greatly each day within a high tunnel, damaging or killing crops and/or making them susceptible to diseases. Many of the 600 high tunnels in West Virginia are unable to connect to an energy grid and/or the high tunnel growers live or work too far away from their high tunnels to monitor and adjust the exposure to temperature fluctuations throughout the day and night. The objectives of this project are to decrease the amount of crop failure and disease (powdery mildew) due to temperature fluctuations and lack of adequate ventilation; reduce farm labor costs; and to increase crop health, yield, and quality of products through the use of an automated ventilation system powered by solar energy. Applicant has not found any research that assesses the use of automated ventilation vs. manual systems in high tunnels nor has there been any study of the use of solar power as an energy source to power remote high tunnel ventilation systems. This project will provide data and results to determine if this means of controlling ventilation is feasible within West Virginia and beyond. Applicant will test three different crops in each of three high tunnels using two automated systems, solar powered vs. electrical grid powered, and a manual system as a control. The three high tunnels are located in-line with nearly identical features. The results will be distributed through seminars, farm visitations, publications and submission to WV Department of Agriculture.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The goal of this project are to decrease the amount of crop failure and disease due to temperature fluctuations and lack of adequate ventilation; reduce labor cost; and to increase crop health, yield, and quality of products through the use of an automated ventilation system powered by solar energy. With over 600 high tunnel growers in the state of West Virginia, educating and teaching growers by modeling how to install and use automated air circulation systems utilizing solar energy will improve their production during the fall, spring and winter months. This knowledge could potentially encourage local growers to produce year-round resulting in a more sustainable farm operation. Good agricultural practices including proper ventilation and disease prevention increases both the quality and quantity of the sellable product. Simply having a high tunnel does not guarantee crop success or increased profits. Crop management is vital.

    The objective is to compare crop health, yield, quality and labor input for two automated high tunnels, one solar- powered and one grid powered, with a control where the side walls are manually raised for ventilation to control humidity and temperature.

    Data will be collected by comparing the amount of product produced during the winter, early spring and late fall crops in a high tunnel using automated air ventilation and solar power vs. a control high tunnel that relies on manually monitoring the temperatures and adjusting for air circulation.

    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.