Season Extension and Cultivar Evaluations for Increasing Farmer Profitability Using High Tunnels in the Baltimore/Washington Metropolitan Marketing Area
The project is designed as a way to allow farmers to produce high quality produce for local markets over a long season. Five farmer- cooperators, all of whom are successful growers and marketers of fresh produce, agreed to make a personal investment in a standardized high tunnel structure. Working together, the farmers and the research team will standardize information on crops and practices. The data that is generated on crop performance, yields and economic returns will be compared.
The location of the five farms provides a representation of the climactic and soil-types in the Piedmont and Coastal Plains of the Mid Atlantic region.
During 2004, the farmers were engaged in the construction phase of the project. No grant funds were used to purchase the hardware for the structures. In fact, much of the category called matching funds was expended in 2004.
Prior to receiving the grant, all of the farmers gathered for a meeting in Annapolis in February 2004 to discuss past experiences with high tunnels. The first steps were taken to outline what was planned at each farm, beginning with the 2004 growing season. This served as a way to initiate conversation among farmers and helped them to get a better understanding of the interests of the research team. It also helped to begin to shape ideas for the 2005growing season.
Under the guidance of Bryan Butler, arrangements were made to purchase the hardware for the construction of the five high tunnels. Each farmer pledged to pay for the hardware to be used at his/her farm. An informal agreement was made between each farmer and the Accokeek Foundation. There were considerable savings by purchasing all the hardware for all five tunnels in one order. Accokeek Foundation made the purchase and loaned the money to purchase the frames of the high tunnels from Ledgewood Farms in New Hampshire. In addition, Accokeek Foundation purchased untreated lumber from Edrich Lumber in Baltimore County Maryland, as well as the plastic for tunnels. Mark Davis arranged for transportation and delivery. He assisted with sorting of the materials at each site.
Each of the farmers followed through on their pledge and reimbursed the Accokeek Foundation for the initial cash outlay at the end of the growing seasons, as per the informal agreement. All of these activities reinforced the concept of farmer ownership as they worked alone and with the research cooperators for the construction of the tunnels. The farmers did actual construction with help from Bryan Butler and Mark Davis.
As of December 30, 2004, today, all the tunnels were at least partially constructed.
Uncooperative weather and farming demands have delayed installation of the plastic covers at three sites. Mark Davis is working with each farmer to make sure that the work is completed over the winter.
The group gathered for a five-hour meeting at the Carroll County Extension office on September 20, 2004. Each farm was represented. The entire the research team attended, as well. In addition, staff from the local extension office observed the meeting and by Dr. Scott Akers, who is an administrator at University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. There is a great deal of interest in the project within the College of Agriculture.
At the September 20 meeting, there were long discussions about previous experiences with tomatoes in the existing high tunnels of the farmers. It was decided that the section of each farmer?s tunnel dedicated to the SARE project will have five growing beds. During the first part of the season, each farmer will grow the same varieties of tomatoes on the three inner rows. Farmers will select high value greens or other crops for the outer beds. Tomato transplants will be purchased from a local grower. Plantings will be timed to coincide with expected frost-free dates at each location. Our goal is to be able to pick and market tomatoes four weeks earlier than possible with ambient field conditions.
No decisions were made at that time as to whether we will attempt a second successive crop of tomatoes for the fall planting. A similar project is underway at Beltsville and we await summary of their progress.
Jim Hanson and Skip Kauffman began working on record keeping methods. Over the course of the project, we will document returns per square foot and per hour of time invested.
The group will meet on January 13th, 2005 at Hagerstown, Maryland for a full meeting to finalize plans for the spring planting season. The meeting is one day prior to the beginning of the Future Harvest Conference. All farmer cooperators and most of the research team will attend the conference. We will begin making preparations for our presentations at the 2006 Future Harvest conference.
Amanda Dell was hired as a research technician. She is an undergraduate at University of Maryland, majoring in general agriculture. She began visiting farm sites in Fall 2004. Her role will be to work with each farmer for data collection. She will maintain the records and compile summaries. She will attend the January 13th meeting and will continue to make farm visits during the spring. Then at the completion of her academic year in May, she will devote full time to the project. She will visit each farm for a full day each week. She will set her schedule to coincide with harvest days at each farm. She will work with the farmers to provide labor where needed. Her observations and her physical presence on a regular basis will help in the standardization of data collection. It will allow us to be sure that measurements are made on a regular basis. Amanda will serve as a conduit for exchange of information among farmers.
Our goal is to gather and distribute information within the farming community in an effort to help 40 other farmers to add high tunnels to their farming operations as a way to increase profitability and sustainability among many diversified marketing plans.
To date, there have been no farmer field days.
No Cooperative Extension bulletins have been printed.
Arrangements have been made for each of the farmers to attend the 2005 Future Harvest Conference. If all goes well, the farmers will be recognized at the opening session of the meetings so that other interested farmers can begin dialogue to help them get started with high tunnels on their own farms. Plans are in progress for a full session to be held at the 2006 conference. Our goal is to report on progress of the 2005 growing season at that time.
If all goes well, out goal is to have at least one farmer field day on a cooperator farm during 2005, and we will schedule more during 2006.
We want to reach out to 600 farmers over the course of the project, with hope of helping 40 farmers put up new high tunnels on their farms.
1. Farmers were convened on September 20, 2004.
2. That meeting has been summarized and the beginnings of the protocols have been established. This process will be continued on January 13th, 2005.
3. Construction is in progress at each farm. Bryan Butler and Mark Davis have made multiple visits to each site.
4. Jim Hanson has begun to develop yield collection forms.
5. The decision-making meeting for the 2005 growing season will be held on January 13, 2005.
6. We have decided on the crop mixes for the spring plantings in 2005.
7. No late fall plantings were done in 2004.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
There have been no outcomes thus far. However, each farmer has already invested considerable time and money in the project. The research team is working together. Bryan Butler and Mark Davis have taken great pains to be sure that each farmer has the necessary tools and equipment to proceed. It should be said that each of them has donated personal time to the projects. For example, Mark Davis worked with one of the farmers over Thanksgiving weekend because that was convenient for the farmer and the weather was cooperative.
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