Improving nutrient and pest management in high tunnel tomato production

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2015: $249,539.00
Projected End Date: 09/30/2019
Grant Recipient: University of New Hampshire
Region: Northeast
State: New Hampshire
Project Leader:
Dr. Rebecca Sideman
UNH Cooperative Extension

Annual Reports


  • Vegetables: tomatoes


  • Crop Production: high tunnels or hoop houses, nutrient management, organic fertilizers, season extension
  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, participatory research
  • Pest Management: biological control, field monitoring/scouting, integrated pest management, insectary plantings
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: nutrient mineralization, soil analysis, soil chemistry

    Proposal abstract:

    ABSTRACT PART 1: PROBLEM AND JUSTIFICATION High tunnel production is economically critical to Northeastern vegetable growers, and tunnel production area is increasing rapidly. Our project provides a comprehensive approach to help growers manage tunnel ecosystems through a multi-faceted education program, supported by research on significant production challenges: management of soil fertility and arthropod pests. There has been limited work to develop and validate appropriate soil testing methods for tunnels. As a result, regionally appropriate recommendations for nutrient management are lacking. Developing fertilization guidelines based on research will ensure growers apply nutrient levels that maintain excellent crop quality without wasting nutrients.  Arthropod pests reproduce quickly and thrive in tunnels, especially in the absence of natural enemies. Habitat plants provide conditions that support beneficial arthropods, promoting sustainable low-cost pest management while fostering biodiversity. Barriers to grower adoption of IPM include limited knowledge about pest identification, how to use biocontrol effectively, and a lack of confidence that it works. ABSTRACT PART 2: BENEFICIARIES, SOLUTION, APPROACH Growers producing tomatoes in-ground in high tunnels in Northern New England and surrounding states are our primary target beneficiary group. This group includes an estimated >2000 producers for whom tunnel tomatoes represent a significant portion of annual revenue. Our educational approach will include two grower conferences that address tunnel production practices, including nutrient and pest management. Six growers will cooperate in participatory on-farm research/demonstration programs, working with the project team to develop, assess, and demonstrate customized biocontrol and nutrient management plans for their production systems. Tunnel production topics will be presented at workshops and twilight meetings, and through published and electronic approaches. With input from our grower advisory group, we will develop grower-friendly resources, e.g. videos, webinars and factsheets demonstrating IPM techniques, a website on tunnel tomato production and our research results, and new ways for growers to network and exchange information. Our two main research objectives for tunnel tomato production are: 1) identify soil test critical levels for nitrogen and potassium, and calibrate common soil tests under tunnel conditions to determine appropriate methods for predicting nutrient availability; and 2) demonstrate the efficacy of habitat plants to increase biodiversity and reduce pest problems. Trials will be conducted in University-managed production-scale high tunnels in NH and ME, which will also serve as educational workshop locations.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    150 commercial growers with a total of 15 acres of high tunnel tomatoes


    will each adopt at least one new practice to improve soil fertility and


    pest management in this crop. As a result, 75 of these growers will


    increase their annual revenue from high tunnel tomatoes by an average of


    $1000 per farm, and 75 of these growers will reduce chemical pesticide


    use by at least one application per year.
    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.