Low Tunnel Strategies for Microclimate Modification and Early Vegetable Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2010: $9,591.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2013
Grant Recipient: Michigan State University
Region: North Central
State: Michigan
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Vegetables: cucurbits, tomatoes


  • Crop Production: irrigation
  • Education and Training: extension
  • Pest Management: mulching - plastic, row covers (for pests)
  • Production Systems: general crop production

    Proposal abstract:

    Profitability of vegetable production in the North Central Region is limited by the temperate climate, which shortens the growing season. Therefore, most growers plant and harvest at the same time, which drives prices down (sometimes below breakeven point) and negatively affects income. The goal of this study is to improve profitability of fresh market vegetables in Michigan and the North Central Region. We intend to achieve this goal by developing, testing, and demonstrating new low tunnel strategies for frost protection and early harvest. Low tunnels are a way for growers to start planting earlier, so they can harvest earlier, and receive a higher price for their produce before vegetable prices begin to decline. This study will test various plastic materials used as low tunnels (clear and white perforated plastic) as well as their combination with a spun-bond material (for heat trapping) for benefits including: frost protection, earliness in planting and harvesting, and season extension. Our preliminary studies showed that by putting plastic mulch and our new low tunnel design (perforated plastic plus spun-bond plastic) air temperature during frost events can be increased significantly inside the tunnels. This proposal will allow us to validate our preliminary observations in a replicated trial. A simple analysis will also be conducted to determine the economic benefit of each system tested. The outcome will be greater awareness among growers of the potential to use low tunnel technologies to reduce frost risks, and enhance earliness and profitability. The outcome of this project will be evaluated by conducting an economic analysis of the productions systems, the number of publications and the number of growers attending outreach activities on the topic.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Objective 1. Development and validation of new low tunnel technologies.
    Objective 2. Conduct an economic analysis of the production systems.
    Objective 3. Deliver information to growers and scientific community.

    The goal of this study is to improve profitability of fresh market vegetables in Michigan and the North Central Region. Low tunnels technologies will be used to modify climate, in order to grow warm season crops for early harvest when prices are competitive. Short-term outcomes include developing the best low tunnel configuration to promote the most frost protection and plant growth enhancement earlier in the season. The expected intermediate-term outcomes include enhancing the knowledge and skills of growers in using plastic mulch and low tunnels to modify climate in states such as Michigan. Potential long-term outcomes of this project will impact vegetable industry competiveness by reducing risk of crop frost damage, extending the season, and improving profitability. Short and intermediate term outcomes will be measured by new findings from the project, grower attendance at meetings, and grower feedback.

    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.